Eating Disorder Research Articles & Resources

Lisa A. Koosis
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor
MentalHelp independently researches, tests, and reviews products and services which may benefit our readers. Where indicated by “Medically Reviewed by”, Healthcare professionals review articles for medical accuracy. If you buy something through our links, or engage with a provider, we may earn a commission.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are behavioral illnesses characterized by persistent, unhealthy patterns in an individual’s eating behaviors, related thoughts, and accompanying emotions. They often involve a preoccupation with food, calories, weight, or body shape (1), resulting in addiction-like behaviors, such as binge-eating, compulsive exercising, or abstaining from specific foods. Individuals with eating disorders may also purge, ridding their body of foods they’ve consumed by inducing vomiting or misusing laxatives. If untreated, these conditions may be life-threatening.

Although eating disorders can take many forms, three of the most commonly diagnosed conditions (2) are:

  • Anorexia nervosa. Individuals with anorexia profoundly fear gaining weight, which can lead to self-starvation. They may have a distorted body image, seeing themselves as overweight even if they aren’t. Individuals may restrict their food intake or binge-eat and then purge.
  • Bulimia nervosa. Bulimia typically involves alternating between dieting and binge-eating. Because sufferers fear gaining weight, binge-eating episodes are often followed by compensatory techniques, such as fasting, compulsive exercising, induced vomiting, or excess use of laxatives or diuretics.
  • Binge-eating disorder. Binge-eating disorder is characterized by a lack of control when eating. Individuals may consume large amounts of food, often quickly, regardless of hunger. Binges are typically followed by feelings of shame or guilt. However, unlike bulimia, binge-eating disorder doesn’t involve compensatory practices.
Eating Disorders — In The News
ADHD Drug Might Help Treat Binge-Eating Disorder, Study Suggests

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A drug used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may also help treat binge-eating disorder, preliminary research suggests. At higher doses tested, the prescription drug Vyvanse curtailed the excessive food consumption that characterizes binge-eating disorder, researchers said. Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate) is solely approved in... Read More

For Anorexic Men, the Focus Is on Muscle

MONDAY, Dec. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Anorexia is typically associated with women, but a new report finds that men -- especially men obsessed with muscularity -- can develop the eating disorder, too. The Canadian researchers noted that an estimated 10 percent or more of anorexia patients are thought... Read More

Health Tip: Eating Disorder Can Hurt Your Child

(HealthDay News) -- An eating disorder, such as binge eating, bulimia or emotional eating, can be dangerous at any age, particularly for a teenager. The American Academy of Family Physicians mentions these potential health consequences of an eating disorder: Weight gain or loss. Difficulty concentrating. Problems of the stomach, heart... Read More

Related Questions & Answers

Weblog Entries
Men And Eating Disorders May 16, 2023

Fictionalized Case: He seemed to be a perfect young man, a scholar athlete described by the ancient Greeks as something to aspire to. He graduated from undergraduate school and graduate... Read More

Dying To Be Thin: 7 Shocking Facts About Teen Laxative Abuse

The Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health found that 78 percent of women within healthy weight range reported being unhappy with their number. Too often, this dissatisfaction leads to eating disorders... Read More

Post-Natal Depression And Eating Disorders

Coping with an eating disorder can create additional stress and complexity for pregnant women and new mothers. An estimated 20 million American women will struggle with an eating disorder like... Read More

What Causes Eating Disorders?

People of all ages and social demographics can develop eating disorders, and the causes vary. However, medical experts typically agree that these conditions result from a combination of factors (3), including:

Eating disorders also run in families. However, regardless of family history, these conditions may occur more frequently in individuals with the following risk factors (3):

Eating disorders may also result when individuals substitute food obsessions for healthy coping mechanisms to gain a feeling of control over their lives or to cope with unpleasant emotions. (3)

What Are the Symptoms of Eating Disorders? Signs to Know.

Although eating disorders often begin during the teen or young adult years, they can appear at any stage of life (4). And because eating disorders affect people of all sizes, shapes, and weights, it isn't always easy to tell if someone has one of these conditions. Although eating disorder symptoms may vary depending on the exact illness, common red flags (3) (5) include:

  • Solitary eating
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Excessive exercise
  • Excuses to avoid meals
  • Regular post-mealtime bathroom trips
  • Frequent, unexplained mood swings
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Fainting spells
  • Unusual eating habits, such as excessive chewing before swallowing
  • A preoccupation with calories, body weight, body image, or exercise
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and social situations

An individual who has an eating disorder may also experience medical symptoms, which can range from minor to life-threatening (5) , including:

  • Heartburn
  • Lack of menstrual periods
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Tooth decay
  • Salivary gland swelling
  • Stress fractures

Do I Have an Eating Disorder? How Are Eating Disorders Diagnosed?

Self-diagnosing an eating disorder can be difficult. However, hotlines, such as the National Eating Disorders Helpline (6) connect individuals to resources that provide support and can help them find treatment. Anyone who thinks they may have an eating disorder may also seek help by contacting a physician or a mental health counselor.

The official path to a diagnosis generally depends on who is providing care. Medical doctors typically review symptoms, conduct a thorough physical exam, and order blood work. Mental health practitioners diagnose eating disorders through a psychological evaluation. However, all providers typically use the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to confirm a formal diagnosis. (7)

What Is the Best Treatment for Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan, which may include behavioral, psychological, behavioral, medical, and nutritional rehabilitation components. Psychological therapy often forms the core of the regimen (7), helping individuals normalize their eating habits and find healthier ways to handle stress. Depending on the severity of the condition, eating disorder treatment may involve inpatient, outpatient, or residential services. Individuals who can’t gain weight on their own or who have life-threatening medical issues may require hospitalization or a feeding tube.
As part of the recovery process, patients may need to keep a food journal, identify personal triggers, or learn to plan nutritious meals. Often, family members play an active role in healing, particularly for younger patients. In some cases, antidepressants help ease symptoms of coexisting mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. (7) Treatment may also address medical and dental issues caused by the eating disorder.

How to Cope With an Eating Disorder Diagnosis

With complex treatment options and the potential for mixed messages from family and friends, coping with an eating disorder diagnosis can be challenging. A trusted doctor or mental health counselor can provide advice on healthy coping techniques. It's also helpful to prepare for medical and counseling appointments by:

  • Keeping track of symptoms
  • Writing down questions
  • Noting recent life events and stressors
  • Bringing a friend or family member

Most importantly, remember that it is possible to resume healthy eating habits and a normal lifestyle with treatment.

How to Help Someone With an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are real, potentially life-threatening illnesses and not a lifestyle choice. Regardless of a patient’s stage of recovery, offering concern and support can help create an environment that’s conducive to healing. However, to help someone with an eating disorder, you may also want to:

  • Learn about their specific disorder through reliable sources, such as national organizations and medical associations
  • Watch for red flags that may signify medical complications (8)
  • Encourage treatment by accompanying the patient to appointments
  • Address any concerns in a calm, supportive way without judgment

It's important to understand that family and friends play a vital role in the healing process, so it's helpful to prioritize the patient's treatment to improve their chances for a successful recovery.


Myndfulness App

Designed to Help You Feel Better Daily

Myndfuless App Rating

Download Now For Free

Learn More >