Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Eating Disorder?

Many people believe that thinner is better. People with eating disorders believe it so deeply that their weight and dieting success become the measure of their self-esteem. Thinking that eating and dieting are both the cause and result of many of their problems, they become trapped in a vicious cycle of repeated, ritualistic and rigid behavior focused on food.

Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an obsession with thinness that results in voluntary self-starvation. Anorexia usually affects adolescent females, although males can also suffer from the disease. Warning signs include loss of 25% or more of one’s body weight, distorted self-image (believing that one is “fat” when he or she is actually below the ideal body weight), and obsession with food, but refusal to eat.


Bulimia is also called the “Binge-Purge Syndrome” because sufferers alternately binge on large quantities of food, then purge themselves by self-induced vomiting, diuretics, laxatives or all three. Bulimia usually affects women in their 20s and 30s, but men also suffer from the disorder. Warning signs of bulimia include swollen salivary glands, increased dental problems from chronic vomiting, excusing oneself after meals to purge, gastric disturbances such as excessive gas after eating, stockpiling food for binges and obsession with food.

Compulsive overeaters

These individuals are usually overweight and may become obese. As their weight increases, they may begin to suffer from shortness of breath, high blood pressure and joint problems. If they become severely obese, their problems can progress to osteoarthritis and life-threatening disorders such as heart and gall bladder disease and diabetes.

How can I help a person with an eating disorder?
If you believe a friend may have an eating disorder, you can help by doing the following:

  • Discuss your concerns with a professional. Learn about eating disorders and local resources.
  • Talk to the friend. Keep the discussion informal and confidential, and focus on your concerns about your friend’s health, not weight or appearance. Mention that eating disorders can be treated successfully. If your friend is able to acknowledge the problem, suggest some resources.
  • Be prepared for rejection. People with eating disorders often deny their problem because they’re afraid to admit they’re out of control. Don’t take it personally, and try to end the conversation in a way that will allow you to come back to the subject later.

Just talking about your problems sometimes leads to new solutions. If you or someone you know needs information, guidance or help, call our Respond program at 1-800-366-1132. Respond offers confidential, caring assessments and referrals for individuals dealing with problems related to mental health issues and substance abuse. If you or a loved one are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 immediately.