Did you know that as many as 30 million Americans have been affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives? This number, provided by the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, includes both men and women, despite the popular notion that eating disorders only affect women.

An eating disorder is defined as a severe disturbance in one’s thoughts, behavior, and emotions in regards to food, eating, and weight. Oftentimes, eating disorders are also accompanied by other psychiatric disorders like anxiety, panic or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcohol or drug abuse problems. There are three types of eating disorders, such as:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa - characterized by limiting food intakeAnorexia is characterized by limiting food intake, a fear of gaining weight or being fat, and problems with body images or denial of low body weight. Signs of anorexia nervosa include not eating enough, exercising obsessively, and being at least 15% less than the normal healthy weight for one’s height.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is characterized by frequent binge-eating episodes followed by purging through laxative use or vomiting. Unlike anorexia, individuals affected by bulimia can vary from being slightly underweight to obese. Generally speaking, individuals affected by bulimia tend to not be as underweight as those affected by anorexia.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating is characterized by frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food all at once. Although this may sound similar to bulimia, the key difference between the two is that individuals affected by binge eating disorder do not purge after binging episodes.

As you may have noticed, some eating habits associated with eating disorders can also be associated with dieting. This raises the question of what the difference between a diet and an eating disorder actually is. Ultimately, only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose an eating disorder. However, you may have an eating disorder if…

Your Weight Loss Goals are Always Changing

Having weight loss goals can be healthy in certain contexts, as long as the end goal is a healthy weight. However, constantly changing your weight loss goals to keep losing weight after already losing weight can be a sign of an eating disorder.

You Exercise Obsessively

Exercising regularly is healthy and many doctors encourage this behavior. However, exercising obsessively with no regard to weather, illness, fatigue, or injury can indicate you may have an eating disorder.

You Diet Obsessively

Again, dieting from time to time is a healthy way to make sure you are eating healthy and controlling your weight. However, there can be a problem when you find yourself being constantly obsessed with weight, food, counting calories, carbohydrates, and fat grams. When your diet is your primary concern over anytime else, including your own health, then you may have an eating disorder.

You Have Strong Emotions Towards Food

young woman with eating disorder

Strong emotions, such as not wanting to eat at all, avoiding certain food groups entirely, and eating too much at one time can all be signs of a possible eating disorder. Oftentimes, these behaviors are also accompanied by feelings of depression, embarrassment, guilt, or disgust.

You Have Low Self-Esteem

Another sign of a possible eating disorder is viewing yourself in a negative light and constantly obsessing about your flaws. In some cases, you may also believe that your self-worth is directly related to your weight.