What Are Eating Disorders?

In Quebec, 3% of women aged 15 to 25 suffer from eating disorders. A figure to multiply by three if we take into account the partial forms of these disorders. And the mortality rate associated with it is high: from 10 to 20% of people affected die sooner or later due to complications. Eating behavior disorders (ED) are mental illnesses that cause serious disruptions in a person’s daily diet.

His attitudes and behaviors towards food, weight and body image can invade his functioning to the point of affecting his physical and mental health in a profound and, sometimes, lasting way. These disorders also cause disturbances in terms of self-image, mood, control of impulses and interpersonal relationships. Eating disorders very often coexist with other problems such as depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug abuse. They must be treated.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM , the abbreviation for the original title of this American manual) is the classification tool commonly used to define mental disorders including those related to eating. Revised in 2013, the DSM-5 officially recognizes three: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Besides these syndromes, there are also eating disorders known as avoidance or restriction, a category of which orthorexia belongs, which is characterized by a fixation on the ingestion of healthy food. Finally, there are also several atypical disorders, such as merycism or potomania.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by the relentless pursuit of thinness and a deep fear of the consequences of eating (gaining weight, becoming obese). This mental illness results in a severe dietary restriction which can lead to emaciation (or extreme thinness) and even death. The sick person has a wrong perception of his weight or the shape of his body and denies the danger associated with the extreme thinness of the body. She refuses to maintain a healthy weight. In Canada, anorexia nervosa affects 0.3 to 1% of women. This disorder mainly affects women between 17 and 22 years of age. Boys are also affected, but in much smaller proportions (one boy for 10 girls). It is also estimated that 20 to 30% of people with suicide attempt suicide, according to Statistics Canada.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by excessive or even gargantuan consumption of food in a short time. It is accompanied by a frightening feeling of loss of control. To compensate for his excesses, the person who suffers from bulimia uses various means to purge himself: he makes himself vomit, ingests laxatives, intensively practices various sports activities or he fastes. Most bulimics have normal weight curves.

Bulimic binge eating

Binge eating disorder is characterized by episodes of eating orgy, often uncontrollable overeating episodes that go far beyond satiety but which, unlike bulimia or anorexia, are not followed by compensatory purges (vomiting, exercising or fasting). Overeating is also called bulimia without vomiting or severe food compulsion.


An obsession first described fifteen years ago, orthorexia is not included in the list of official mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) . From a perspective of seeking a pure diet, this condition consists in obsessively controlling his diet by eliminating foods that are not considered “healthy”, because they contain sugar or fat, which they could contain pesticides or other chemicals, etc. The objectives sought may vary: improve one’s health, treat an illness or lose weight.

The factors explaining the appearance of eating disorders being specific to each, the care approach must be individualized and adapted to the needs of the suffering person. Different therapies are possible: individual, group, family or couple, pharmacological and nutritional therapies.

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