Anorexia, also known as Anorexia Nervosa, is the term given to people who purposely under-eat. There are a variety of behaviors associated with anorexia, but some of the more common ones are eating very little, or limiting intake to very low-calorie foods (such as carrots, celery, diet soda, water etc.), abusive laxative, diuretic, and/or enema use, compulsive exercising, and self-mutilation. Some anorexics, like bulimics, employ vomiting as a means of controlling unwanted weight gain, but instead of throwing up after a binge (a "pure" anorexic would never binge), the anorexic does it after eating a normal meal, or after eating anything at all. The most obvious symptom of anorexia is extreme thinness, yet even those who become emaciated often believe they are fat.
Someone suffering from Bulimia, or Bulimarexia, as it is sometimes called, binges on large quantities of food, either regularly or periodically, and then purges the food from his/her body, either by forced vomiting or using laxatives. The bulimic may also be a compulsive exerciser and is often a chronic dieter. He or she may even employ extreme measures, including near starvation, as a means of weight loss between binges. A major characteristic of bulimia is a domineering fear of getting fat, even though many bulimics are at a healthy weight or slightly over- or underweight.
The most common eating disorder is Compulsive Eating/Obesity, the practice of gluttony without undoing the "damage" through purging, laxatives, or exercise. The compulsive or binge eater simply eats too much too often and often makes poor quality food choices. The most obvious outward sign of this disorder is the condition of being significantly overweight or obese.. This person may constantly be eating (compulsive eating) or have episodes of eating very large quantities of food (binge eating) separated by stretches of regular or restricting eating. Many are ashamed to eat in view of others, while others readily eat socially acceptable amounts and types of food publicly, but graze on junk food or gorge themselves in private. Compulsive eaters feel "compelled" (actually "impelled") to eat for an assortment of reasons in addition to, but not limited to, real physical hunger. These people become overweight when they eat more food than their bodies need, and/or else they consistently choose the wrong kinds of food ( high fat/high calorie/high sugar). People who compulsively eat may be very distressed about their food intake and body size or they may seem to not care at all. Some are amazingly unaware of the fact that they have a problem, which is called "denial."
"How do I know if I have, or if someone I know has an eating disorder?" If you or someone you know easily matches one of the above profiles, the answer is obvious. However, eating disorders are not limited to any set descriptions. Perhaps you have, or the person in question has a different twist, or a blend of symptoms from two or all three classifications. Many people "flip flop" between disorders. Here are two great rules of thumb:
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