Eating disorders, among them anorexia nervosa (voluntary starvation) and bulimia nervosa (binge-eating followed by purging), occur frequently—but not exclusively—in affluent cultures. A disproportionate number of the diagnosed are young women in their teens and 20s, but the prevalence among young men has increased over the years.
Among the most baffling of conditions, eating disorders take on a life of their own so that eating, or not eating, becomes the focus of everyday existence. Both anorexia and bulimia are powered by a desire for control. But in the case of binge eating disorder, in which people gorge on large amounts of food and generally gain weight, sufferers feel that eating is out of their control.
Both culturally mediated body-image concerns and personality traits like perfectionism and obsessiveness play a large role in eating disorders, which are also often accompanied by depression and/or anxiety.
There is no magic cure for these conditions, which are often challenging to treat, and many cases can be acutely life-threatening, requiring hospitalization and forced nourishment.