eating disorders


These disorders affect 8 million in the US and have the highest mortality rate of any mental health diagnosis.
- South Carolina Department of Mental Health


eating disorders

Know the facts.

There are several types of eating disorders, the 3 most common are:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  2. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
  3. Bulimia Nervosa

GENERAL DEFINITION: People with eating disorders try to manage feelings by focusing instead on food, weight and body image.

These mental health disorders profoundly disrupt a person's ability to regulate eating patterns, resulting in problems with health and happiness.

Media and peer pressure, which over-emphasize thinness may also play a part. Eating disorders often develop during teen and young adult years and affect 8 million in the US.

Eating disorders are not just about food, weight, appearance, or willpower; they are serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. Causes are complex and include issues with control, genetics, and/or family dynamics.


  • Other types of eating disorders include... Orthorexia, Pica, Rumination, Laxative abuse, Compulsive Exercise, Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED/EDNOS), Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by dangerously low body weight, an image of their body that does not match reality, and an extreme fear of losing control and looking fat. People with anorexia nervosa do not eat enough food to maintain a healthy, functioning body and this results in damage to organs, muscles, and bones. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa:
A person with anorexia nervosa might...

  • have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted self-image
  • exercise excessively.
  • have a fear of eating in public.
  • withdraw socially.
  • grow soft, furry hair on their body (lanugo).
  • become dehydrated and develop dry yellowish skin.
  • have low, unhealthy body weight.
  • sometimes cover up with layers of clothing.

Binge-eating Disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food - often in secret - and being unable to stop. After a binge (eating out of control), people often experience shame, distress or guilt, which can trigger a new round of binge eating. People who have binge eating disorder may be of average weight, or they may be overweight.

Symptoms of Binge-eating Disorder:
A person with binge-eating disorder might...

  • eat out of control.
  • eat to the point of discomfort or pain.
  • eat much more food during a binge episode than during a normal meal or snack.
  • frequently eat alone and in secret.
  • feel depressed, disgusted, guilty or upset over the amount of food eaten.
  • develop symptoms associated with clinical obesity which include problems with: blood sugar (diabetes), cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, gallbladder and heart disease.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of severe overeating followed by purging (self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives and/or over-exercising).

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa Disorder:
A person with bulimia nervosa might...

  • eat until the point of discomfort or pain, often with high-fat or sweet foods prior to purging.
  • purge (self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives and/or over-exercising).
  • have a distorted, excessively negative body image.
  • damage their teeth and gums (from vomiting).
  • irritate their throat, esophagus and stomach (from vomiting).
  • suffer severe dehydration.
  • damage their internal organs, especially heart and kidneys.

Often, treatment involves a team approach that includes mental health professionals, nutritionists, and doctors. It also may require hospitalization. 

Therapy - individual and/or family - and support groups can be especially effective.

While it may take months or years of care, sometimes involving hospitalization, people who suffer from eating disorders can recover and lead healthy lives.


  • Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating or body image problems
  • Remind the person that there is no shame in having an eating disorder. (This can help remove potential stigma.)
  • Avoid overly simple solutions and advice. Being told “You need to eat more” or “You need to eat less” isn’t helpful. It can be frustrating for the person to hear this. It can also cause them to shut down, be defensive and feel misunderstood.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help.


  • Educate yourself about the disorder.
  • Listen to your friend when they want to talk.
  • Keep checking in with your friend.
  • Use 1st person language. Say,
    “My friend has an eating disorder.” not “My friend is not crazy." OR "My friend is fat or too thin.”
  • Reassure your friend of your support and understanding.


  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “I am here for you.”
  • “It’s the illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.”
  • “This must be really difficult for you.”


  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Get over yourself, you have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “Shouldn’t you be better by now?”


  • ...tell a friend to “Snap out of it!”
  • ...diagnose.
  • ...gossip.
  • ...take your friend’s withdrawal personally.

Find additional information on our Mental Health Disorders page and other suggestions on our Understanding Stigma page >>

Can you answer these questions?

  1. What is an eating disorder?
  2. Define each of the 3 main types of eating disorders.
  3. What are the symptoms of each of the three types of eating disorders?
  4. What types of treatment are available for people experiencing an eating disorder?
  5. What can you do to support someone with an eating disorder?
  6. How do you think stigma might affect a person with an eating disorder?

*Hint: Read the EATING DISORDERS facts at the top of this page to find the answers for 1-5. And view our Understanding Stigma page for question #6.


eating disorders

Questions you're too afraid to ask someone with an eating disorder

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Struggling With An Eating Disorder

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Recovering From An Eating Disorder

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Binge Eating • Eating Disorders • One Word

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Know the facts.

Fact: Eating disorders are not just about food.

People with eating disorders try to manage emotions by focusing too much on food, weight and body image.

What they eat or don't eat is something that they believe they can control when other aspects of their lives may seem out of control.  

"Just eat!" or "Just stop eating!" might be phrases that we want to say to someone with an eating disorder. But these comments are inappropriate because an eating disorder is not about the amount of food one eats or does not eat, it really is about trying to hide something more serious and emotionally troubling.

- Adapted from the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness

Fact: Eating disorders affect all groups of people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnic, cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic status.

Because of this myth, people who do not fit the stereotype may not get the help they need.

- Adapted from University of Rochester Medical Center

Fact: Eating disorders are not just about weight.

They are about a person's sense of self-worth and include obsessive thoughts about food and eating.

People with eating disorders who are at a healthy weight may actually suffer more because they don't receive recognition of their illness from others.

-Adapted from National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders

Fact: Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

They are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone too far.

People with eating disorders experience changes in their behavior around eating. These changes can be life-threatening.

The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses, and over 12 times higher than that for people without eating disorders.

-Adapted from The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (Australia)

Fact: Binge eating disorder (BED) affects far more people than other eating disorders.

It is believed to be the most common eating disorder in the U.S. More than 6 million Americans suffer with binge eating disorder.

- Adapted from WebMd



It's OK to ask for help.
Talk to a trusted adult.

Visit and access the all new YouthWell Community Resources Directory. You will find youth behavioral health and wellness resources in this resource directory.

If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or is in immediate risk of harm CALL 911 immediately.

SAFTY ~ Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth 

  • 888-334-2777 - SAFTY is a mobile crisis response service available daily 8am-8pm, providing crisis intervention, phone, and in-home support, and linkage to mental health services. Available to all SB County youth, age 0-20, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. 

Crisis Text Line

  • Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling.
    Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via text. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds quickly.

Suicide, Substance Abusee or Mental Health Lifeline

  • Text 988 - Connects callers to a trained counselor at a crisis center closest to them

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 - 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ support, and youth in crisis - provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people

  • Call 866-488-7386 or Text START to 678678

Learning about mental health is the first step to wellness. The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) can help families find medical and professional care, as well as teach important skills on how to manage your mental health. Many families in our community have teenagers who are struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues. It can be overwhelming as a parent to find support for your teenager and difficult to talk about these issues. The MWC is focused on providing a safe and confidential space for families to connect with others, access community resources and get the support your family needs.