We need food to live, so it's no wonder that talking about food, cooking, and eating are popular activities. Food is also an important part of family gatherings and celebrations. But when food becomes the most important thing in your life, it may be a sign of an eating disorder. back to top
What is an eating disorder?
Food rules your life when you have an eating disorder. You might eat too much food, not enough food, or the wrong kinds of food, but you are always thinking about food. What to eat. What not to eat. When to eat. How much to eat. Having an eating disorder like anorexia
, or binge eating
is not healthy and can be dangerous. back to top
Why does someone develop an eating disorder?
One of the most common causes of eating disorders is dieting
. A girl might decide to cut calories so that she can lose a few pounds to fit into a pair of jeans, improve her performance for a particular sport, or improve her health if she is overweight
She puts all of her effort into dieting. Then she may stop seeing food as nourishment and start to think of food as something to control or be controlled by. When you focus on dieting instead of increasing your fitness level through cardiorespiratory exercise
and strength training
and by making healthy food choices
, you're beginning an unhealthy relationship with food.
Girls who have eating disorders don't just have unhealthy relationships with food, they may also do things like take diuretics, laxatives, or diet pills. Some girls may exercise compulsively
. A girl who exercises compulsively is so addicted to working out that everything else in her life—her family, school, social life, and job—suffers. Taking diet aids and exercising two or three hours a day to keep from gaining weight are signs of a serious problem.
Girls who are runners, dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters are all at increased risk for getting eating disorders. back to top
What are the health risks of eating disorders?
Eating disorders put you at risk for many physical problems. When you don't eat enough nourishing food, you can become nauseous, tired, dizzy, and irritable. This can also happen if you binge
on junk food and don't get the nutrients
your body needs.
Even if you aren't seriously underweight, without enough healthy food in your diet, you may have irregular periods or stop menstruating altogether, a condition known as amenorrhea. And as your body loses nutrients like calcium, your bones can become brittle and age prematurely. You may experience hormonal changes like decreased estrogen levels that lead to irreversible osteoporosis and stress fractures. Your skin can become dry and cold. You are also at risk for getting kidney stones and cerebral atrophy (depressed brain functions). Eating disorders can also cause life-threatening health problems. back to top
What can I do if I or someone I know has an eating disorder?
If you think you or a friend has an eating disorder, talk with your parents or an adult you trust. And take our self-test.
It can take a long time to recover from an eating disorder. Depending on the kind of eating disorder you have, a therapist, a dietitian, and your health professional may need to work together as a team to help you. If there's one thing that's true about all eating disorders, it's easier to prevent them than to treat them. back to top