Counseling and Resource Center

When Someone You Know...

…Has an Eating Disorder

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are not due to a failure of will or behavior. They are not about dieting or vanity. They are treatable medical illnesses. These psychological disorders affect more than 8 million Americans each year. People develop dysfunctional eating patterns in attempts to cope with or control other overwhelming problems in their lives. Without treatment, eating disorders can be fatal.

Signs and Symptoms

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia nervosa is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening eating disorder. Sufferers intentionally deprive themselves of food and can literally starve to death in an attempt to be what they consider "thin." They can experience extreme weight loss--at least 15% below the individual's healthy weight--and refuse to maintain body weight that is even minimally normal for their age and height. Even if they become skeleton-like, anorexic people's distorted body image convinces them they are "fat." The self-esteem of individuals with this disorder is directly dependent on their body shape and weight. They view weight loss as an impressive achievement and an indication of extraordinary self-discipline.

Bulimia Nervosa: People who have bulimia nervosa routinely "binge," eating large amounts of food in a very short period of time, and immediately "purge," ridding their bodies of the just-eaten food by self-inducing vomiting, taking enemas, using laxatives or other medications. If left untreated, bulimia nervosa can lead to serious and life-threatening problems, such as depression, anxiety disorders, damage to the heart, kidneys, digestive system, and severe dental damage. Those with bulimia nervosa are at risk for dangerous impulsive, self-destructive behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity, kleptomania, self-mutilation, and alcohol and/or drug abuse.

Compulsive Eating Disorder:
Compulsive eaters feel incapable of controlling how much or how often they eat. They may feel unable to stop eating, eat very fast, eat when they're not hungry, eat only when they're alone, or eat nearly non-stop throughout the day. Compulsive eaters often over-indulge in sugary foods and use them in an attempt to "lift" their mood. When they don't eat the foods they crave, they often experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

Binge Eating: The essential features of binge-eating disorder are repeated, out-of-control episodes of consuming abnormally large amounts of food. People with this disorder eat whether they are hungry or not and continue eating well after being uncomfortably full. If left untreated, this disorder often leads to obesity, which is responsible for as many as 300,000 deaths each year, or other serious and often life-threatening eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Those who suffer from binge-eating disorder are also at high risk of substance-related disorders and serious psychiatric conditions, including depression, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

Other Eating Disorder Facts

Myths about Eating Disorders

Myth: Only teenage girls experience eating disorders.
Fact: Although many eating disorders do begin in the teenage years, anyone can suffer from this disorder, including children, men, and older women.

Myth: An individual is only Bulimic if he/she vomits.
Fact: Laxatives, diuretics, exercising, or fasting can also be used to "purge": rid the body of food.

What can help?

If you think a friend has an eating disorder, talk with him/her about specific behaviors you've noticed. Express your caring, support and concern. Don't blame or judge. If she denies the problem, tell her that you are worried and need to do something to relieve your worry (e.g. give her material to read, tell a parent, etc.). Offer to go with her to a doctor or to support group.

A physician should be seen to discuss concerns, to immediately treat any physical problems, and to explore treatment plans.

Your friend can make an appointment in the Edmonds CC Counseling and Resource Center with a counselor, who can listen, offer feedback, and refer to treatment resources.

Eating disorders are complex and often require a comprehensive treatment plan involving medical care and monitoring, psychosocial interventions, nutritional counseling and, when appropriate, medication management.


National Eating Disorders Association 800.931.2237
American Psychiatric Association  
Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders  



Care Crisis Line
Snohomish County Care Crisis Line: 425.258.HELP (4357) or 1.800.584.3578
(24-hour telephone crisis counseling; interpreters available)
King County Crisis Line: 206.461.3222 or 1.800.244.5767