What are Eating Disorders?

“Eating disorder” is a term for a group of serious mental illnesses that cause individuals to jeopardize both mental and physical health due to problematic relationships with weight, body image, eating, and food. These disorders can at times be life threatening. A problematic relationship with eating or body image can manifest itself in the form of binge eating, purging, food restriction, driven exercise, and a number of other eating or body-image related issues.

Often, those struggling with an eating disorder derive a large portion of their sense of self-worth from their weight or body image. Eating disorders are also often accompanied by depression or anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses. It is crucial that addressing all concurrent mental illnesses, including behavioral addictions, form part of a comprehensive treatment program so that patients can recover and achieve the lives they aspire to live.

Eating disorders may take various forms, including the following.

Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa restrict their caloric intake due to an intense fear of gaining weight. The caloric restriction results in significant weight loss, loss of menstrual periods in women, as well as other significant negative health consequences. Some individuals with anorexia also engage in compensatory behaviours for eating, such as excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and diuretic use. Anorexia can, in some cases, result in death. Affected individuals perceive themselves as being overweight despite their weight being dangerously low.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by periods of binging on foods, often followed by various ways of trying to compensate for the binging, such as self-induced vomiting, driven exercise, or other behaviours. Individuals living with bulimia base their sense of self-worth on their weight or their body image.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by periods of binging on foods. Unlike bulimia, those with binge eating disorder do not generally attempt to purge after binging. They may, therefore, become significantly overweight and suffer the negative health consequences. Depression, shame, and low self-esteem are also often associated with binge eating disorder.

Unspecified Eating Disorders

This describes individuals who may have some combination of anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating symptoms, but who do not necessarily fit into one category. This is generally the most common experience for most people who struggle with eating disorders.

We Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the eating disorder support programs or counselling services offered by EHN Canada, or if you have any other questions about addiction or mental health, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

  • 1-800-387-6198 for Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, ON
  • 1-800-683-0111 for Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, BC

You can also find more information on our eating disorder support and counselling page.