musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Who Has an Eating Disorder?

Last week was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I hope you’ll take a few moments to brush up on some info… it could be really helpful for you or someone you care about.

That person there in your office, sitting two cubicles away. That woman at the gym in the front row of your yoga class. That teen plugged into her phone on the bus. That senior woman sipping tea at the cafe.

Who has an eating disorder? The truth is, it could be anybody. You can’t tell from looking at someone if they have one, or what kind of eating disorder they have.

The National Eating Disorders Association says: Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Here’s a scary fact: Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It’s not something to be taken lightly. What starts off as dieting for weight-control can easily lead to disordered eating— a broader range of problematic eating behaviors that do not-quite meet the criteria for an ED diagnosis. Unfortunately, our culture’s obsession with weight-control makes this all too common. Disordered eating can lead to a full ED, or just cause prolonged suffering.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a diagnosed ED. The problems started for me around age 11, when I became self-conscious about my body and started dieting. Things went awry for many reasons, including the alcoholic dysfunctional family I was in, and I went through periods of starvation, over-exercising, body obsession, bingeing and yo-yo dieting. I felt crazy. I didn’t know anyone who was going through what I was with food.

By me, age 14

It was the 70s and awareness about eating disorders was pretty new. There was Karen Carpenter and anorexia; bulimia was also getting some coverage. When I tried to seek help for my issues when I was 18, I didn’t fit neatly into those categories so i was told I wasn’t bad enough and they couldn’t help me. For decades I tried to figure out my eating issues by myself, through lots of reading and and courses and research, but I always struggled. I didn’t get into an ED program until I was 50. I had become so discouraged by my lack of progress. I am still getting help and have come a long way thanks to great therapy, teachers and support.

How I dieted, late 70s, 300 cal a day

I hope you will read the following list to learn a bit more about eating disorders. There are some even I haven’t heard of before. The more education we have, the better we can be helpful and sensitive and supportive to others or ourselves.

Also, please check out my Easting Disorder Resources page for more on what has been helpful to me– books, websites and coaches. 

Types of Eating Disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa — extreme weight loss/starvation, difficulty maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, stature. (A person can be fat and anorexic, and these cases are often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.)

Bulimia Nervosa — a cycle of binge eating combined with compensatory behavior such as induced vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercise or starvation.

Binge Eating — episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, and not regularly using compensatory behaviors to counter the bingeing. (The most common eating disorder.)

Orthorexia — an obsession with proper or “healthful” eating that starts to interfere with life: compulsively checking nutrition labels, cutting out an increasing number of food groups, inability to eat anything but a narrow group of “healthy” foods, etc. (I developed this as an adult, thinking I was just trying to “eat clean.” I became anxious and obsessive about doing it right.)

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified –– includes atypical anorexia nervosa (anorexia without the low weight), bulimia or binge eating disorder with lower frequency of behaviors, purging disorder, and night eating syndrome.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder — An eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating) as manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs.

Diabulimia — Diabulimia is deliberate insulin underuse in people with type 1 diabetes for the purpose of controlling weight.

{Photos by: i-yunmai and Jennifer Burk courtesy of, and me.}

References for this post:

Eating Disorder Statistics

How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Disordered Eating (and What to Do)



  1. Imaan

    Great post and very educational! There’s such a spectrum when it comes to eating disorders. I feel like people tend to always immediately think of anorexia however there’s so much more! I think it’s great to educate yourself on it x Imaan

    • Theresa Alberti

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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