MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Food and Fitness


Feature Articles: Eating Disorders


Eating disorders a serious issue

Ashley Gibbons, former MU Extension Dietetic Intern & Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, University of Missouri Extension


We live in a culture saturated with unrealistic messages about body image. Americans are almost desensitized to the word “diet” because of the overwhelming amount of diet plans currently on the market. The diet-related industry is a 50 billion dollar a year enterprise. Unfortunately, 80 percent of American women claim to be dissatisfied with their appearance and shape. In addition, 1 in 2 Americans are on a weight-loss diet. The most common behavior that will lead to an eating disorder is dieting.


Eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are widespread and affect people of all ages and sexes — about 9,000,000 Americans suffer from one. Eating disorders are not just a fad or a phase, they are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health.


Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Those struggling with the disorder are 10 times more likely to die than others in the same age group. Specific signs and symptoms of the disease are low body weight (less than 85 percent), intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, extreme focus on shape or weight, and loss of menstrual cycle for more than three consecutive months (also known as amenorrhea).


Bulimia nervosa is considered the invisible eating disorder because you can’t always tell by looking at a person’s body weight that they are struggling with the disease. Bulimia is marked by recurrent binge eating and feeling out of control. It is coupled with compensatory behavior like vomiting, laxative abuse, excessive exercise and fasting to undo the effects of a binge.


Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common among the types of eating disorders. BED is marked by recurrent binge eating with no compensatory behavior. Those struggling with the disorder are often overweight or obese and distressed by the binge eating. BED is not the occasional overeating — it is consuming thousands of calories in a relatively short period of time. Binges are often followed by feelings of guilt and disgust.


Other eating disorders can include some combination of the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Although these other disorders may not be clinically considered a full syndrome eating disorder, they can still be physically dangerous and emotionally draining.


It’s important to avoid thinking of eating disorders in simplistic terms, like “anorexia is just a plea for attention,” or “bulimia is just an addiction to food.” Eating disorders arise from a variety of physical, emotional, social and familial issues, all of which need to be addressed for effective prevention and treatment.


The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of recovery. There are many treatment options for eating disorders. The right approach for an individual depends on his or her specific symptoms and the severity of the disorder.


Parents, siblings and close friends play a significant role in guiding and supporting others. Often individuals with eating disorders cannot recognize a need for help, and it takes a strong, caring individual to reach out. Recovery can be difficult — but there is hope!



Garner, D.W., Wooley, S.C. (1991). “Confronting the failure of behavioral and dietary treatments for obesity.” Clinical Psychology Review. 11, pp. 727-780.

National Eating Disorders Association. “Learn basic terms and information on a variety of eating disorder topics.” Retrieved from

Zunino, Natalia, PhD, of American Anorexia and Bulimia Association, Inc.


University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri

Last update: Monday, February 23, 2015