Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening conditions that seriously affect all people. Body-image issues, stress, and other factors can lead to the development of eating disorders and can result in difficulty with functioning in everyday life.

The most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder

Other disorders can involve a combination of the three listed above.


Anorexia nervosa can be a life-threatening condition that can result in fatal starvation.

Symptoms may include:

  • Restriction of calorie intake and/or excessive exercising
  • Preoccupation with body weight and food consumption
  • Intense fear of gaining weight and/or persistent behaviors that interfere with weight gain (e.g., purging behaviors or over-exercising)
  • Physical symptoms such as fainting, weakness, fatigue, and/or distorted perceptions of weight

Bulimia nervosa can be a life-threatening condition in which a person eats food and then vomits, over-exercises, and/or uses laxatives in order to not gain weight.

Symptoms may include:

  • Cycles of bingeing (eating larger than normal quantities of food) and then purging (self-induced vomiting)
  • Constant dieting
  • Use of laxatives on a regular basi
  • Frequent excessive exercise
  • Preoccupation with body weight and food consumption
  • Self-evaluation based upon body shape and weight

Binge eating is similar to bulimia except binge eating does not usually result in vomiting, excessive exercising, or laxative abuse.

Symptoms may include:

  • Consuming larger than normal quantities of food, eating rapidly, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, and/or eating large amounts when not physically hungry
  • Feeling a sense of a lack of control over eating
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment over how much you’re eating
  • Intense feelings of shame, disgust, depression, embarrassment, or guilt following binge sessions


In general, treatment involves a combination of approaches. Medical providers, dietitians, and mental health providers may all be involved in the treatment of an eating disorder. Treatment may include: medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), and nutrition counseling, as well as the management of any medical issues that result.

If the eating disorder has progressed far enough, hospitalization or admission into a higher level of care may be suggested.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It is important to note the eating issues and eating disorders are not the same. A person can have eating issues but not an eating disorder. Eating disorders are at the extreme end of the spectrum and always require professional help.

Causes & Prevention

Eating disorders are often linked with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse. They are more prevalent in women and teenage girls but can occur in males as well. Food is often seen as an escape mechanism to avoid problems and eating disorders can cause a greater danger to the health of the individual in the long run.

Early recognition of mental health issues and creating strong social support networks can be helpful.  Treating the co-existing mental health issues is paramount in successful treatment.

Resources for Students

Rutgers Student Health can help connect you to campus and/or community supportive services that may be helpful to you. If you choose to make an appointment with Rutgers Student Health, please specify you would like an appointment focused on food issues so that proper time can be scheduled and so you can be connected with a provider who specializes in eating disorders.

Eating issues and body image questions go hand-in-hand across a continuum:

Thinking about where you fall on the continuum can help you decide whether you need some help to sort out your thinking or support in making changes to your thoughts or behaviors. Click here for a more comprehensive continuum chart.


Additional Resources and Community Programs

  • National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) – website
  • Nutrition information from the Federal Government – website
  • The Renfrew Center – website
  • Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s Program for Eating Disorders – website
  • University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro – website
  • Princeton Healthcare System Women’s Program – website
  • GenPsych Eating Disorder Outpatient Program – website