What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders involve a serious change in eating habits-- either eating too much or too little.

The main forms of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Individuals with anorexia restrict their food and are seriously concerned about what they eat and how much they eat. They have an intense fear of gaining weight and see themselves as bigger than they are.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Individuals with bulimia will binge eat or overeat and then "purge" to keep from gaining weight. Purging can involve induced vomiting, laxative abuse, excessive exercising and diuretics use. They are also obsessed with body weight and size.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: Individuals will compulsively overeat but do not purge afterwards.
The truth about eating disorders:
  • Approximately 3% of women will be affected by an eating disorder during their lifetime.
  • Eating disorders affect girls and women more than boys and men.
  • Factors believed to contribute to eating disorders include biological and personal factors as well as society's promotion of the thin body image.
  • Eating disorders carry with them a high risk of other mental and physical illnesses that can lead to death.
  • Since 1987, hospitalizations for eating disorders in general hospitals have increased by 34% among young women under the age of 15 and by 29% among 15-24 year olds.

(Source: Public Health Agency of Canada)

How to spot a problem in your child:

If your child exhibits any of the following behaviours, talk to her. She could be in danger of developing an eating disorder or she could already have one.

  • She is concerned that people are staring at her and criticizing her appearance.
  • She compares herself to air-brushed models and television characters and has unrealistic expectations of herself.
  • She complains of feeling "fat" and she is preoccupied with her appearance.
  • She constantly compares her appearance to that of her friends.
  • She compares her weight to that of her friends.
  • She notices the body size of other people around her.
  • She does not believe compliments and instead dwells on criticism.
  • She measures parts of her body and weighs herself excessively.
  • She avoids going out with her friends or family because she hates her appearance or thinks others will be critical about her appearance.
  • She wears bulky clothes to cover her body.
  • She refuses to wear a bathing suit or similar clothing.
  • She feels ashamed or embarrassed about her appearance.
  • She does not eat with the family or skips meals.
  • She goes to the bathroom immediately after a meal.
  • She suddenly becomes a vegetarian or vegan and uses it as a way to restrict what she eats.
  • She says she's on a diet and needs to lose weight.
  • She exercises constantly.
  • She counts calories and fat grams.
  • She is losing a noticeable amount of weight.
  • She has dizzy spells or faints.
  • She frequently complains of a sore throat.
Are some kids more susceptible than others?

There are certain personality traits or life experiences that can make some kids more likely to develop an eating disorder. These are:

  • Perfectionism
  • A need to be in control
  • An inability to express feelings or problems
  • A major life trauma or change
  • A family member with an eating disorder.

To learn more and find out about treatment, watch our special on eating disorders, Dying to be Thin

A panel of experts, including a specialist in eating disorders, and a mother who lost her daughter to anorexia,
discuss why so many young women still suffer from eating disorders, the signs to look out for, and what to do if you suspect your child has an eating disorder.

Learn more about girls and body image issues before they become a problem.