Facts about Eating Disorders

Full recovery from an eating disorder can happen for everyone. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, or how long the eating disorder has been part of your life. It can be a difficult journey at times, but supports are available. Recovery is possible!  

People with eating disorders may do some of these things:

  • eat very little
  • only eat certain foods
  • eat much larger than average amounts of food in a short amount of time
  • eliminate certain foods or entire food groups
  • see foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’
  • eat only in private, or alone
  • vomit or use laxatives to get rid of food and lessen anxiety about eating or weight gain
  • buy foods just for a binge
  • think about food constantly, including planning what to eat or not eat
  • extreme or compulsive exercise
  • ask for opinions from other people about their size (“Do you think I’m fat?”) or eating habits (“Did I eat too much?”)
  • spend more time in private
  • exercise alone
  • stop doing activities or avoiding social gatherings if food is involved
  • avoid situations where others might see their body, like swimming or changing clothes in a communal change area
  • exercise even when they are sick, hurt, or very tired
  • exercise or eat at odd times like in the middle of the night when others are sleeping

 People with eating disorders may feel:

  • extremely anxious or worried if they eat a food they consider bad, forbidden, or unhealthy
  • ashamed of their body
  • they are larger than they really are
  • unable to stop their behaviours
  • out of control around food
  • distracted or unable to concentrate
  • depressed or sad
  • unable to cope if they don’t exercise
  • an intense desire for a very thin, or very fit body
  • like they are special; like most people could not live on their food intake, or attain their body size, or that they’re immune to consequences of the eating disorder
  • afraid to tell other people, often for fear of judgment

People with eating disorders may believe:

  • eating food they consider ‘bad’ will make them gain weight immediately
  • missing a workout will immediately change the shape or size of their body
  • life would be different if they had the ‘right body’
  • thinness or fitness is extremely important, no matter what their actual body size
  • their behaviour is normal or healthy; others may feel the opposite – that they are ‘crazy’ or ‘messed up’

Physical signs and symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • feeling cold, even when it’s warm or when dressed in layers
  • paleness
  • dry skin
  • dizziness
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • bloating
  • swelling of the face from purging
  • marks or scarring on the knuckles from inducing vomiting
  • stress fractures or injuries from overexercise
  • missed periods
  • swelling of the ankles, feet or hands
  • tiredness
  • insomnia

While most people with eating disorders know about the potential harm, they feel they can’t stop their behaviour. Loved ones should undertand that the behaviour helps the person cope with stress and uncomfortable feelings. It is not just about food.

Types of Eating Disorders

Commonly, eating disorders fall into the categories below. While anorexia and bulimia are the most well-known eating disorders, many people with eating disorders fall into the category of Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa 

Binge Eating Disorder

Important note: Many people may not meet these diagnoses, but their behaviours affect their well-being and could impact their health. This should still be taken seriously.

It’s also very important not to make assumptions about symptoms or behaviours based on someone’s body size. People who have eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Many have been dismissed because they appear to ‘look fine’. Don’t underestimate an eating disorder simply because of someone’s body size or shape. Eating disorders affect people of all genders and all ages.