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What is an eating disorder?

We’ve all heard the term “eating disorder.” When most people hear this term, they picture someone who is severely underweight, malnourished (“anorexic”) and, most likely, a young woman. And while this may be partially true, there are many different types of eating disorders. And, eating disorders impact men, women and children of all ages. Further, people with eating disorders do not always present as dangerously underweight.

Symptoms & Signs of an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders – such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder – typically involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

Specific warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders can vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. While some symptoms may be noticeable, eating disorders are also inherently secretive mental illnesses. This can make detection of an eating disorder quite difficult.

Medical Symptoms

Low Weight

Weight at or below 85 percent of Ideal Body Weight (IBW) for age

Bingeing more than one time per week

Purging more than one time per week

Weight loss

Growth failure in adolescents

Depressed mood

Social withdrawal and/or deterioration of school or work performance

Behavioral Warning Signs

Extreme weight loss

Calorie Restriction

Eating more rapidly than normal


Fear of gaining weight

Eating Quickly

Impulsive eating

Restricting calories and/or self-starvation


Purging through means including self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse or compulsive exercise

What Causes Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders, but it is generally believed they are the result of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.

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Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness

Eating disorders may be more prevalent than you realize. The latest statistics indicate that more than 30 million people in the U.S. will suffer from an eating disorder; 10 million of those individuals are men. 

  • 13 percent of women over the age of 50 have symptoms of an eating disorder.
  • Sufferers aren’t always underweight; about 35 percent of binge eating disorder and 30 percent of bulimia patients are medically obese.
  • Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents, after asthma and obesity.
  • Over 70 percent of those who suffer with eating disorders will not seek treatment due to stigma, misconceptions, lack of education, diagnosis and lack of access to care.
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How are Eating Disorders Treated?

With specialized treatment, it is possible to recover from an eating disorder. In fact, up to 80 percent of patients who seek or complete treatment at Eating Recovery Center will recover or improve significantly.

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Is Recovery from an eating disorder possible?

An eating disorder is a treatable mental illness that includes a number of different symptoms, including extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders can have serious emotional and physical consequences. In fact, those with anorexia, one of the most familiar eating disorders, have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.

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Eating Recovery Center is accredited through the Joint Commission. This organization seeks to enhance the lives of the persons served in healthcare settings through a consultative accreditation process emphasizing quality, value and optimal outcomes of services.

Organizations that earn the Gold Seal of Approval™ have met or exceeded The Joint Commission’s rigorous performance standards to obtain this distinctive and internationally recognized accreditation. Learn more about this accreditation here.

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