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A to Z: Eating Disorder

Eating disorders involve self-critical, negative thoughts and feelings about body weight and food, and eating habits that disrupt normal body function and daily activities.

More to Know

People with eating disorders may have a fear of gaining weight or be overly concerned about their body shape and weight. They may eat very little all the time, or at times may binge (eat a lot in a short amount of time). They may exercise more than they should, make themselves throw up, or use pills to lose weight.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa cause dramatic weight fluctuation, interfere with normal daily life, and can permanently affect health. The cause of eating disorders isn't clear, but doctors believe it involves psychological, genetic, and social factors.

While more common in girls, eating disorders can affect boys, too. Kids and teens with eating disorders may feel cold or tired. Some have dizziness or fainting, hair loss, dry skin, and difficulty concentrating. Girls may stop having periods.

Early identification and treatment of an eating disorder is important. Without treatment, eating disorders may lead to life-threatening heart problems as well as problems with other organs in the body.

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Keep in Mind

Treatment for eating disorders should involve a team of experts, including a doctor, therapist, and dietitian. The goals of treatment are to help someone:

  • stop the unhealthy behaviors
  • achieve and maintain a healthy weight and healthy eating patterns
  • learn ways to change thoughts about his or her body and approach to food

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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