Eating Disorders


What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are when a person has abnormal eating habits like eating too much food or not eating enough food. People with eating disorders also tend to have extreme concerns about their weight and body shape. The prevalence of eating disorders is about 9% for females, with males at a much lower rate. It typically affects female teenagers since they are more sensitive to comments about body weight/shape, peer pressure, and pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty. 

Types of eating disorders?

There are two types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia is seen more in females. They usually have low self-esteem and believe they are overweight no matter how thin they are. They have a continuous fear of weight gain and are usually high achievers or want to be perfect. This is typically seen in athletes and dancers. They tend to restrict eating food and/or exercise excessively. Although less common, they can also vomit after eating, abuse laxatives, or other diet medication. 
  • Bulimia. People with bulimia typically have normal body weight. They tend to worry about being overweight. They typically binge large amounts of food and have a sense of losing control. They have a high rate of purging after eating. They tend to use laxatives, diet medication, and/or exercise excessively.

What is the difference between anorexia nervosa and bulimia?

People with anorexia nervosa are typically underweight, while people with bulimia are often normal to overweight. The purging rate may also differ between anorexic and bulimic individuals, with less purging in anorexia and a higher rate in bulimia.

Are there any medical complications associated with eating disorders?

  • Anorexia. People with anorexia can have medical complications. 
  • feeling tired
  • poor sleep
  • anemia
  • baby hair covering their body
  • gets cold easily
  • heart problem and lower heart rate
  • seizure disorder
  • lack of period in females
  • bone loss
  • malnutrition
  • death in some severe cases
  • Bulimia. Medical complications from bulimia may include:
  • tooth decay
  • heartburn
  • dehydration
  • heart arrhythmia
  • callus on knuckles

Any comorbidities associated with eating disorders?

Comorbidity with eating disorders are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use
  • History of trauma 

Do insurance companies cover eating disorders?

Yes, most insurance plans cover eating disorders. The cost, however, will vary depending on what type of insurance plan you have, the severity of the disorder, and what state the insurance company is based in. If you would like to know more about how the Specialty Clinic of Austin can help you with eating disorders, please contact our office at 512-382-1933.


What causes eating disorders?

Like many other mental illnesses, the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. Rather, it is most likely a combination of genetics and psychological factors.

    • Genetics. Some people may have specific genes that increase the likelihood of developing eating disorders. Others may have a change in biological factors, such as changes in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of the brain) that contribute to eating disorders.
    • Psychological and personality factors. Most people with eating disorders also exhibit mental health problems. Their personality traits often include low self-esteem, neuroticism, impulsivity, and perfectionism.



What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa typically involves not only physical but emotional and behavioral symptoms also. People with anorexia nervosa are often severely worried about their appearance and continue to take extreme measures to lose weight despite the weight loss already. The symptoms may include:

  • extreme fear of becoming fat/gaining weight
  • thin appearance
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • absence of periods
  • soft, fine hair covering the body
  • discoloration of the fingers
  • extreme ways of fasting and restricting diet
  • misuse of laxatives, diet products, herbs, etc.
  • indulging food then forcing to vomit (less common)


What are the symptoms of bulimia?

Similar to anorexia nervosa, the symptoms of bulimia can be physical, emotional, and behavioral. People with bulimia typically eat large amounts of food at once, only to purge later. They are usually normal to overweight with severe concerns about weight gain. The symptoms may include:

  • having a negative body image
  • binge eating
  • avoiding eating in public or with other people
  • damaged teeth and gums
  • calluses on hands and/or knuckles
  • exercising excessively
  • use of laxatives, diet medications, etc.
  • going to the bathroom during and/or after meals to purge



How is an eating disorder diagnosed?

Eating disorders can be diagnosed by a combination of self-assessment questionnaires, looking for symptoms based on DSM-5, and lab tests. Your healthcare professional may conduct a physical exam to rule out other medical complications. Self-assessment questionnaires may be used as a tool to examine your current eating habits, as well as psychological and emotional behaviors.



How can eating disorders be treated?

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can help treat comorbid conditions. Individual therapy helps with self-esteem and body image. Additionally, a nutritionist can help promote a healthy diet. People with anorexia may require hospitalization for re-feeding and to monitor for medical complications.

Specialty Clinic of Austin has highly trained mental health professionals, therapists, and nutritionists to help you reverse some of the effects of eating disorders and promote a healthier lifestyle. This could help you feel more confident in your body, enhance self-worth and self-esteem without using dangerous methods to achieve idealized body shapes.



  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018a, February 20). Anorexia nervosa – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018b, February 22). Eating disorders – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic.
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018c, February 22). Eating disorders – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic.
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018d, May 10). Bulimia nervosa – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic.



Medically reviewed by:

Charles Sweet, MD, MPH

Dr. Sweet is a native Texan and attended The University of Texas at Austin for undergraduate studies. He earned his Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health degrees at the University of Illinois and then did residency training at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Sweet came back to Austin, TX for specialized training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and has been in practice since 2009.Dr. Sweet believes strongly in working with, and training Physician Assistants to treat the behavioral health needs of adults, children and adolescents.

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