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What Is an Eating Disorder?

distraught young woman sitting on kitchen floor with head in her hands wondering what is an eating disorder

Many Americans have heard of anorexia or bulimia, or are familiar with excessively picky eaters, but few can definitively answer, “What is an eating disorder?” An eating disorder is a mental health condition, not a phase or fad. Early admission to an eating disorder treatment program offers the best chance to prevent serious, potentially lethal health problems. Connections Wellness Group is ready to help you or a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. Call 940.360.4245 today for more information.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are complex, serious medical conditions that affect at least 9% of the U.S. population, and they do not discriminate across gender, age, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Though many people can be concerned about their weight and appearance, for some, this concern evolves into a fixation or obsession, leading to detrimental mental and physical health. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses, coming second only to opioid-related deaths. Fortunately, more emphasis is being placed on screening and treatment interventions for eating disorders. The most commonly diagnosed eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and, more recently, orthorexia. Understanding the symptoms and warning signs is vital to early detection and treatment intervention.

General Warning Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

*Please note that all symptoms are usually not present simultaneously, but this list can help recognize if a more severe problem is evolving.


  • Increased attention to weight loss, dieting, and control over food
  • Preoccupation with appearance
  • Refusal to eat certain foods leading to the elimination of whole categories (e.g., carbohydrates or fats)
  • Feeling uncomfortable eating around others
  • Skipping meals or only taking small portions at meals
  • Withdrawal/isolation from friends/family and usual activities
  • Extreme mood swings


  • Fluctuations in weight (increase or decrease)
  • Stomach cramps and/or vague GI complaints (constipation, nausea, heartburn)
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Dizziness on standing
  • Fainting
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Cuts/callouses on top finger joints from inducing vomiting
  • Dental problems (cavities, tooth sensitivity, eroding enamel)
  • Dry skin and nails, brittle nails
  • Fine hair on the body (lanugo)
  • Generalized weakness and fatigue

Signs/Symptoms of Specific Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Rapid, dramatic weight loss
  • Dressing in warm layers to hide weight loss or stay warm
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, dieting. Can make frequent comments about feeling “fat”
  • May exercise excessively and rigidly despite illness, injury, fatigue

Bulimia Nervosa 

  • Consuming large amounts of food in very short periods of time
  • Evidence of purging after meals, such as disappearing to the bathroom after meals, smelling of vomit, or finding laxative/diuretic wrappers
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water or using gum/mints constantly
  • Callouses on knuckles from self-inducing vomiting
  • Dental problems such as cavities, tooth sensitivity, enamel erosion from vomiting

Binge Eating Disorder 

  • Recurring, frequent episodes of binge eating (eating a very large amount of food in a short period of time) and feeling a lack of control over the ability to stop
  • Feeling guilt, depression, shame after a binge eating episode
  • Stealing or hoarding food in strange places


  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (e.g., all sugar, carbs, dairy, meat, animal products)
  • Increasing concern about the health of food products and only able to eat a narrow category of foods deemed to be “healthy” or “pure”
  • Spending hours a day thinking about what food may be served at upcoming social events
  • Body image concerns may or not be present

Reach Out to Connections Wellness Group Today for Treatment Options

If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, please know treatment options are available at Connections Wellness Group. We offer multiple locations across the Dallas – Fort Worth area to serve a diverse community of residents.

Mindful Eating Disorder Treatment Program

This program is available for teens and adolescents 13 to 18 years old. Generally, a combination of psychiatry, medication management, and nutritional counseling is recommended for the best long-term success. Scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional can help determine the severity of the eating disorder and the appropriate level of care, such as outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential, or inpatient care.

It is also important to note that the vast majority of individuals with eating disorders can also experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Concurrent substance abuse can be common as well. Finding a provider that can address co-occurring mental health concerns in addition to eating disorders is vital for success.

If you would like further information, please visit the following sites:

Call us today at 940.360.4245 for treatment options!

Contributing Author: Nisha Saraiya, MD, Psychiatry