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Eating Disorders Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are a range of conditions involving an obsession with food, weight and appearance. This obsession negatively affects people's health, relationships and day-to-day living.  To be diagnosed with an eating disorder, a person must have both disordered eating and psychological disturbance.

About 90 per cent of people diagnosed with eating disorders are girls and women; however, boys and men are increasingly being diagnosed. Eating disorders typically begin during adolescence.

Are there different types of eating disorders?

The DSM IV recognizes two types of eating disorders:

  •  anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia have an intense and irrational fear of gaining weight and having body fat. They are obsessed with being thin. They may believe they are fat, even when they are well below the normal weight for their height and age.
  •  ​bulimia: People with bulimia go through cycles of bingeing and purging. Bingeing involves eating large amounts of food quickly. This makes people feel physically ill and anxious about gaining weight. Then they will purge, which can involve vomiting, depriving themselves of food, over exercising or using laxatives and diuretics.

The DSM 5 (published in May, 2013) recognizes a third type:

  • binge eating disorder (BED): People with binge eating disorder overeat compulsively, consuming huge amounts of food, often all at once. Like the other disorders, people with BED often feel out of control and powerless to stop the behaviour.

What are the signs and symptoms of eating disorders?​

Below are lists of behavioural, physical and psychological signs or changes which often accompany an eating disorder.


  • Constant or repetitive dieting
  • Evidence of binge eating
  • Evidence of vomiting, laxative abuse or excessive exercise
  • Making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods and changes in preferences
  • Development of rituals or other new behaviours around food preparation and eating
  • Frequent avoidance of eating meals by giving excuses
  • Strong focus on body shape and weight
  • Development of obsessive body checking behaviours
  • Social withdrawal or isolation from friends, especially situations involving food
  • Change in clothing style, such as wearing baggy clothes
  • Deceptive behaviour around food
  • Eating very slowly or continual denial of hunger


  • Sudden or rapid weight loss or changes in weight
  • Sensitivity to the cold
  • Loss or disturbance of menstrual periods
  • Signs of frequent vomiting
  • Fainting, dizziness and fatigue


  • Increased preoccupation with body shape, weight and appearance
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Constant preoccupation with food or with activities relating to food
  • Extreme body dissatisfaction/ negative body image
  • Distorted body image
  • Heightened sensitivity to comments or criticism about body shape or weight, eating or exercise habits
  • Heightened anxiety around meal times
  • Depression, anxiety, moodiness, irritability or low self-esteem
  • Rigid ‘black and white’ thinking
  • Feelings of life being ‘out of control’ and being unable to control behaviours around food
  • Fear of taking on adult responsibility

What are the causes of eating disorders?​

Eating disorders appear to result from multiple factors including: cultural, social, family and emotional pressures, personality disorders, and genetics and biological factors. Some research has shown a connection between child sexual abuse and subsequent development of eating disorders.

What is the treatment for eating disorders?​

The first step in recovery is realizing that we have behaviours related to food and weight that are hurting us. Once that realization has been made, there are a variety of ways in which help can be found or offered to those suffering from an eating disorder.

Treatment pproaches include:

  • psychoeducation
  • nutritional counselling
  • psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • pharmacotherapy (SSRIs have been found to have some effect in treating bulimia but not anorexia).

Where can I find help, treatment and supp​ort for eating disorders?​

Treatment from CAMH 

Help for Families from CAMH

Ontario Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)

Where can I find resources related to eating disorders?​ 

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDIC)​​​​​
CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
Connex Ontario Help Lines
Queen St.
1001 Queen St. W
Toronto, ON
M6J 1H4
Russell St.
33 Russell St.
Toronto, ON
M5S 2S1
College St.
250 College St.
Toronto, ON
M5T 1R8
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