What are Eating Disorders?

Imagine loving something so much but being terrified of it at the same time. That is my relationship with food. It is complicated, at times toxic, love-hate relationship that I constantly have to work on.

Many people don’t fully understand what eating disorders are, even those suffering with them. The Mayo Clinic defines eating disorders as “… serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life.”

Eating disorders involve, and often evolve from, the continuous focus on food, body shape and weight. These obsessive thoughts can lead to restricting food intake, excessive overeating and/or purging; all of which can impact ones health.

It is important to note that both men and women can suffer from eating disorders.


It’s tempting to blame social media for eating disorders. However, the reality is that the cause of eating disorders is unknown. What I do know is that a combination of psychological, social, and biological circumstances can make you more prone to develop an eating disorder.

“You got fat” is not an acceptable way of greeting someone and I always remind my family of that. Being told by both your family and society (through media) that your body is not good enough does impact ones self-esteem. The constant teasing and indirect jabs at my weight left me hating my body. And I started seeing food as the enemy.

Apart from dysfunctional families and social pressures to become skinny, researches have also identified the following causes:

  • Genetics
  • Personality traits such as perfectionism and impulsivity
  • Participation in sports that promote a lean body e.g. gymnastics
  • Childhood trauma such as sexual assault
  • Stress

Types of Eating Disorders and their symptoms

For a very long time, the media has told us that only those who are underweight or obese have eating disorders. But it is not that simple. Not all eating disorders have a noticeable impact on ones weight. And I say not all because there are a number of eating disorders, each of which comes with it’s own set of symptoms and challenges.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, also referred to as anorexia, is an eating disorder where an individual restricts the amount of food they eat. The fear of gaining weight will drive the individual to continue restricting food intake even though they are underweight. Anorexia has two subtypes: restricting type and binge-eating/purging type.


  • Limiting food intake
  • Fear of gaining weight even though individual is underweight
  • excessive exercise
  • for women: missing ones period for over three cycles

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa, commonly called bulimia, is characterised by the binge/purge cycle. An individual with bulimia will eat a large amount of food in a short period of time; feeling a loss of control while eating. This is followed by purging which can be in the form of self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or the use of laxatives. Bulimia is particularly hard to notice because suffers often have a normal body weight.


  • fear of gaining weight despite being of normal weight
  • excessive exercise
  • binge eating
  • self-induced vomiting to prevent weight gain
  • going to the bathroom immediately after having a meal

Binge Eating Disorder

Individuals with binge eating disorder find themselves losing control when they eat. However, unlike bulimia, the binging episodes are not followed by purging whether through vomiting or excessive exercise. These episodes of binging are followed by feelings of shame and guilt.


  • eating until uncomfortably full
  • feelings of shame and guilt when thinking of binge eating behaviour
  • eating large amounts of food without feeling hungry

The above are the most common types of eating disorders, but are not the only ones. Other eating disorders include:

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please do not be afraid to seek help.