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Dieting is a very common risk factor for eating disorders. Other social, biological, psychological and family factors can play a part in the multifactorial cause of the disorders. Eating disorders can affect people from all age groups, both genders, different cultures, and a wide range of educational, occupational and socioeconomic backgrounds. Female adolescents and young women are the groups that are most at risk. Eating disorders are diseases that not only affect our nutritional intake and physical health but also our thinking, attitudes, feelings, emotions, social relationships and our quality of life. They may occur with other disorders, such as, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, adjustment problems, and substance abuse.

Early warning signs of eating disorders
Some early signs can indicate that a person may be developing an eating disorder. They include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Weight loss or weight change
  • Preoccupation with body appearance, weight and food
  • Frequent weighing
  • Distorted body image
  • Counting kilojoules (calories)
  • Avoidance of fatty or high kilojoule foods
  • Cutting food into small pieces
  • Avoidance of social situations involving food
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Faintness, dizziness and fatigue
  • Increased mood changes and irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to think rationally or concentrate
  • Heightened sensitivity to criticism
  • Visiting the bathroom regularly after meals
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Hoarding food
  • Exercising excessively
  • Abusing laxatives and diuretics
  • Taking appetite-suppressant tablets
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Major categories of eating disorders
Anorexia nervosa
Bulimia nervosa
Binge eating disorder
Other specified feeding or eating disorder

Anorexia nervosa
It is characterized by a person's restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health; intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight; and a distorted body image. A person with anorexia nervosa will try to stay thin by avoiding eating or may take laxatives or exercise too much. People can die of anorexia nervosa when their bodies become very weak as a result from starvation, electrolyte imbalance and cardiac arrhythmia.

Bulimia nervosa
A person with bulimia nervosa will have recurrent episodes of binge eating (rapid consumption of a large amount of food in a discrete period of time) for at least once per week for three months; a feeling of lack of control over eating behaviour during the eating binges; self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, strict dieting or fasting, or vigorous exercise in order to prevent weight gain; and persistent over-concern with body shape and weight. Continuous bingeing and vomiting can cause serious damage to the body. As people with bulimia nervosa do not look overweight or underweight, it is difficult for others to know about their eating problems.
Binge eating disorder
It is characterized by a person's continual eating without regard to physiological cues, sometimes resulting in frequent episodes of binge eating with an inability to stop or to control the behaviour. A person with a binge-eating disorder is preoccupied with weight, food and body image, and will become overweight but does not regularly use dangerous methods of weight control such as starvation, self-induced vomiting, and laxative abuse. Overweight can lead to serious medical problems, such as, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, gallbladder disease, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder
It is also called atypical eating disorders. The affected person will have disordered patterns of eating, and be preoccupied with thoughts of food and body weight which interferes with his or her daily life. The symptoms of the disorders, however, do not fulfill all the criteria of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The person may be anorexic but her current weight is within or above the normal range despite significant weight loss. The person could be bulimic but her binge-eating behaviour occurs less than once a week or for a period of less than three months. Some people with these types of disorders may have recurrent purging behavior in the absence of binge eating or recurrent episodes of night eating.
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