Eating disorders affect nearly 20 million women and 10 million men at some time in their life in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Eating disorders can have serious consequences on a person’s health and shouldn’t be viewed as a fad or phase.

To support National Eating Disorder Awareness Month, here are important questions and answers from NEDA and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) regarding eating disorders:

What is An Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a serious, but treatable illness that can potentially be life-threatening. It can stem from various biological, psychological and social factors. It affects both males and females and both the young and old, although women and girls are two and a half times more likely to be affected by an eating disorder, according to NIH.

There are three main types of eating disorders; not every eating disorder fits in with these classifications:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder

What Are the Symptoms and Health Risks of the Different Types of Eating Disorders?

Anorexia Nervosa

People who suffer from anorexia nervosa often become obsessed with food, eating and weight control, according to NIH. Despite being underweight, they see themselves as being overweight. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any other psychiatric disorder, according to NEDA.


  • Extremely low body weight
  • Severe food restriction, denial of hunger or avoiding mealtime settings
  • Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat”

Health risks:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure
  • Fainting, fatigue and overall weakness

Bulimia Nervosa

Someone suffering from bulimia nervosa will eat large amounts of food, feel a lack of control and will then compensate by purging. Purging can be done through forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, fasting and/or excessive exercise, according to NIH. While most people suffering from bulimia nervosa are considered normal or healthy weight, they are often unhappy with their weight and body shape, according to NIH.


  • Evidence of binge eating and purging behaviors
  • Unusual swelling of cheeks or jaw area

Health Risks:

  • Tooth decay from stomach acids
  • Inflation and possible rupture of the esophagus

Binge Eating Disorder

Those who suffer from binge eating disorder lose control over their eating, but do not purge after periods of binge eating and therefore can suffer from obesity. During these periods, they feel out of control and often times have strong feelings of shame and guilt.


  • Eating when they aren’t hungry
  • Eating to the point of discomfort

Health risks:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

What Should I Do if I or Someone I Know Has an Eating Disorder?

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, seek medical attention from your physician. The sooner a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, there’s a greater chance of physical and emotional recovery, according to NEDA.