Eating disorders are dangerous psychological (relating to the mind) illnesses that affect millions of people, especially young women and girls. The most widely known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, which will be discussed further in this chapter.
Officially recognized by the medical community only since 1980, eating disorders were first brought to the public's attention when pop singer Karen Carpenter (1953–83) died from complications resulting from anorexia. People suffering from eating disorders battle life-threatening obsessions with food and unhealthy thoughts about their body weight and shape. If untreated, these disorders can lead to death. Researchers have found many factors that are probable causes of eating disorders. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible, though it is a difficult process that should not be done alone. The first steps toward recovery are for the sufferer to accept that there is a problem and to show a willingness to focus on his or her feelings rather than on food and weight.
This chapter will discuss the types of eating disorders that have been identified, the causes, the consequences of an eating disorder on the mind and body, and the treatment and prevention of eating disorders.