You see yourself as overweight even though you are very thin. The process of eating becomes an obsession. You develop unusual eating habits. This may be avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities, or carefully weighing and portioning food. You may check your body weight over and over again. You may also use other means to control your weight. This often involves forced vomiting, or using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics. Girls with anorexia often have a delay with their first menstrual period. Your height may also be lower than it should.

Anorexia may cause:

  • Excess weight loss
  • Obsession with food calories and fat content
  • Dieting even when thin
  • Strong fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted self-image that you are heavier than you are
  • Placing too much value of your self-image on your weight
  • Problems with your monthly period
  • Excess exercise
  • Feeling cold, mainly in the hands and feet
  • Being secretive about food
  • Hair loss
  • Growth of fine hair on the body
  • Fainting or lightheadedness
  • Constipation
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness and muscle wasting

Anorexia is different in each person. Some may get better after one episode. Others may have a pattern of relapse. Sometimes, it can last years.


There is a cycle of binge eating, then purging or exercise. Your weight may be within the normal range for your age and height. But, you may fear gaining weight. You may binge and purge in secrecy. This may make you feel shame or disgust with yourself.

Actions of bulimia:

  • Eating large amounts of food at one time—this may lead to you spending a lot of money on food
  • Feeling like your eating is not in your control
  • Making yourself throw up
  • Taking laxatives, enemas, diuretics, or diet pills
  • Excess exercise
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Impulse control problems
  • Alcohol or substance misuse

Bulimia may cause:

  • Belly pain
  • Problems with your monthly period
  • Swelling of your cheeks and jaw
  • A sore throat
  • Bloating
  • Stained, eroded, or chipped teeth because of stomach acid
  • Cuts or scars on back of your hand from scraping skin on teeth during forced vomiting

Binge Eating Disorder

You have episodes of eating that you think you can't control. Most of the time this is done in about 2 hours. With binge eating disorder (BED), there is no purging. This may cause you to gain too much weight over time.

BED may cause:

  • Cycles of binge eating—excess amounts of food without a sense of control
  • The binge eating is linked to at least 3 of these:
    • Eating much more rapidly than normal
    • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • Eating alone because of shame about how much you are eating
  • Feeling disgusted with yourself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
  • Distress about the binge eating
  • The binge eating happens at least 2 days a week for 6 months
  • The binge eating doesn't have any regular use of purging, fasting, or excess exercise

About eating disorders. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: Accessed September 6, 2018.

Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated June 15, 2017. Accessed September 6, 2018.

Binge eating disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated June 15, 2017. Accessed September 6, 2018.

Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 16, 2018. Accessed September 6, 2018.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

Eating disorders: About more than food. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: Updated 2018. Accessed September 6, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 9/6/2018