Eating Disorders Home > Eating Disorders

Causes of Eating Disorders

There is no known cause of eating disorders. However, there are several things that may increase a person's risk. These factors are known as eating disorder risk factors. They include:
  • Personality factors
  • Body image
  • Genetic and environmental factors
  • Biochemistry.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

The following are common symptoms of eating disorders:
  • Anorexia nervosa: People who have anorexia tend to develop unusual eating habits, such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating them in small amounts, weighing their food, and counting the calories of everything they eat. They also may exercise excessively.
  • Bulimia nervosa: People who have bulimia eat an excessive amount of food in a single episode and almost immediately make themselves vomit, or use laxatives or diuretics (water pills) to get rid of the food in their bodies. This behavior often is referred to as the "binge/purge" cycle. Like people with anorexia, people with bulimia tend to have an intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Binge-eating disorder: People with this recently recognized disorder have frequent episodes of compulsive overeating, but unlike those with bulimia, they do not purge their bodies of food. During these food binges, they often eat alone and very quickly, regardless of whether they feel hungry or full. They often feel shame or guilt over their actions. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, binge-eating disorder occurs almost as often in men as in women.

Diagnosing Eating Disorders

In order to diagnose an eating disorder, the healthcare provider will ask a number of questions and perform a physical exam to look for signs or symptoms of eating disorders. He or she may also recommend certain tests. Eating disorders are diagnosed when specific criteria are met. Each disorder has different criteria.
(Click Eating Disorders Diagnosis for more information on the criteria used to diagnose each disorder.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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