Eating disorders: an overview

In Asian countries where beauty standards emphasize being thin and frail, eating disorders have been silently on the rise. The lack of mental health awareness invalidates eating disorders, keeping many people from putting a name to their experience and seeking support. To keep you informed, here’s an overview on what eating disorders entail.

Source: Houston Public Media

What are eating disorders?

They are mental disorders characterized by eating patterns that are: 1) unusual, 2) damaging to a person’s mental and/or physical health

What causes them? What are the signs of an eating disorder?

  • Low self-esteem and body image

  • Excessive dieting: restriction is the root cause of every eating disorder as it alters the body’s natural eating pattern and lead to anxiety around food

  • Personality traits like perfectionism and impulsivity predispose a person to obsessing over food or binge eat

  • Culture: the introduction of western beauty standards to developing countries coincide with a surge of eating disorders with the pressure to stay thin

  • Genes & biological factors like brain structure can increase the risk of weight issues and mental conditions including eating disorders

The 3 most common types of eating disorders:

1. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

BED is characterized by episodes of binge eating where a person consumes an abnormally large amount of food, usually to the point of physical discomfort, followed by intense distress. It is important to understand that BED is not simply a lack of self-control, it is a mental disorder where the brain is hardwired to seek relief from anxiety by binge eating. People with BED usually report feeling as though they were “outside of their body” when they binge. While most BED patients are overweight, this disorder can affect people who appear to be in a normal weight range too. While BED is the most common eating disorder, it is less openly discussed due to the stigma around it.

2. Anorexia

Anorexia is the most well known eating disorder, characterized by severe restrictions on eating which lead to being underweight. This disorder largely affects teen girls who are most vulnerable to societal pressure to be thin. People with anorexia often also have body dysmorphia - a disorder where a person’s view about their body is distorted - so they’ll perceive themselves as “fat” even when they’re dangerously underweight. The signs of anorexia to look for include: severely under-eating and restricting food, an intense fear of gaining weight, and an over-reliance on appearance and weight for self-esteem.

3. Bulimia

Bulimia has characteristics of both BED and anorexia, as it’s characterized by alternating episodes of binge eating and restricting. Restricting methods include: overexercising to compensate, vomiting, fasting, drinking laxatives, etc. People with bulimia often maintain a normal weight so it’s more difficult to tell that they are struggling with an eating disorder. Behind the scenes, however, they suffer from physical and mental effects ranging from sore throats and acid reflux to hormonal disturbances.


No one should feel like they need to change to be beautiful and accepted. Cultivate self-love and spread the positive message to others by lifting them up. If you feel like you might be developing an eating disorder, reach out to closed friends or trusted adult figures for help. If you have a friend who is showing signs of an eating disorder, offer gentle understanding and encourage them to open up about their experiences. Eating disorders are only destructive when the person affected is isolated and thinks there is no way out, so help create a community where they can safely share their experience.


Cover Photo Credit: ushpush