Obesity: Is it an Eating Disorder?


With nearly 40% of adults in the U.S. being obese, and 18.5% of children aged 6 to 11 years old, as well as 14.2% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years old, according to The State of Obesity 2019 report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the question begs to be asked: is obesity an eating disorder?

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is defined as “an abnormal attitude toward food that can take on many different forms ranging from overeating or undereating.” Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or young adulthood but can also develop during childhood or later in adulthood. (1)  While most people think of eating disorders as disorders that lead to weight loss, there are actually several types of eating disorders that can lead to weight gain.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that leads to drastic weight loss. (2) People with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of gaining weight and will often go to extreme measures to lose weight such as severely limiting the amount of food they eat, exercising obsessively, or purging after meals by vomiting or using laxatives.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is another type of eating disorder that is characterized by bingeing on large amounts of food followed by purging through vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or excessive exercise.

Binge-eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is another type of eating disorder which is characterized by regularly consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time followed by feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. People with binge-eating disorder often eat when they’re not hungry and continue eating even when they’re full.

Related:   3 Alternative Methods Of Treating Obesity

Obesity as an Eating Disorder

While obesity isn’t currently classified as its own separate eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), some experts believe it should be. Obesity is a complex condition with many underlying causes such as genetics, metabolism, culture, environment, and psychology.

While the cause of obesity may be different for each individual, the end result is the same: excess body fat. In order for someone to be diagnosed with obesity, they would need to have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight but not obese. (3)

Help with Obesity

Many people suffering from eating disorders do not seek treatment because they don’t think they need it. They believe that they can control their disorder on their own. However, research has shown that treatment can be very successful with eating disorders.

The jury is still out on whether or not obesity should be classified as its own separate eating disorder but what we do know is that it’s a complex condition with many underlying causes. If you are struggling with obesity, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional who can help you develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

(1) Eating Disorders
(2) Anorexia Nervosa
(3) Defining Adult Overweight & Obesity


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