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Identifying Eating Disorders

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

I recently watched the docufilm, Salt-N-Pepa, on LifeTime. I was grateful Cheryl “Salt” James shared that she had bulimia, an eating disorder, throughout much of her time in Salt-N-Pepa. She reports she “had three goals: win a Grammy, maintain her weight at just 115 pounds, and make sure nobody knew about the eating disorder.” (1). She was able to “achieve” her goals for many years. However, her battle with bulimia became so unmanageable that it contributed to her taking a hiatus from Salt-N-Pepa in 2002. Finally, once out of the spotlight, she was able to address her eating disorder and heal her relationship with food and her body.

Ms. James is just one of 20 million women that will have an eating disorder in their lifetime(2).

There are eight formally recognized eating disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition(DSM-5), the diagnostic tool for diagnosing eating disorders. The DSM-5 recognized eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Pica, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder,

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder, and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder.

We will discuss the three most common DSM-5 recognized eating disorders in adults: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.

It’s important to discuss there are disorder ordered eating patterns not recognized by DSM-5 but affect many clients I see: Emotional Eating and Orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating).

  • Emotional Eating- There are many definitions of emotional eating but the simplest definition is eating for any cause other than physical hunger. A common misconception is that emotional eating is only associated with negative emotions such as sadness or anger. However positive emotions such as happiness or excitement or even neutral emotions such as boredom can trigger emotional eating.

  • Orthorexia- Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy eating. It can be hard to diagnose this because diet culture has made many of us hyper aware of food. People with orthorexia are extremely uncomfortable with eating anything that is “not healthy.”

Both emotional eating and orthorexia require a multidisciplinary approach as described above.

I’ll close by saying eating disorders are complex biochemical disorders that affect individuals differently. Healing from an eating disorder requires a multidisciplinary, holistic approach. Above all healing from an eating disorder requires compassion both for yourself and others. If you need help with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa I recommend looking on the National Eating Disorders Association website to find a qualified treatment center.

If you have a body mass index > 30 kg/m2 and signs of binge eating disorder, emotional eating, or orthorexia, the Embrace You Weight & Wellness program may be able to help you tackle the root of the problem and find more balanced, healthy ways to lose weight and maintain that weight loss that work with your body.

I joined Tre Tailor on Coping with COVID to discuss Eating Disorders. You can check out the interview here:


  1. Gina Vaynshteyn. (2021, January 23). The 'Salt-N-Pepa' Lifetime Biopic Covers Chery James' Eating Disorder [TW] Distractify. Retrieved from:

  2. National Eating Disorders Association (2021). Retrieved from

  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

  4. Gurze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue (2014). DSM-5 and Eating Disorders. Retrieved

  5. University of Michigan (2020). Emotional Eating. Retrieved

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