Mental Health

The History of Eating Disorders

history of eating disorders Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

The History of Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.

Who first described Anorexia Nervosa?

In the 12th century, Saint Catherine of Siena already denied herself food, an extreme form of fasting, for spiritual reasons.

Morton history of eating disorders

In 1689 the English physician Richard Morton described the cases of a girl and a boy who had eating disorders. These cases were characterized by a lack of physical explanation for the loss of appetite and the nervous consumption of food.

Lasegue anorexia nervosa

In 1873 the credit for the discovery of anorexia nervosa is given to both the French neuropsychiatrist Ernest Charles Lasègue, and the English physician Sir William Withey Gull.

William Gull anorexia nervosa

However, the first description of anorexia has been given by Sir William Gull in 1868 naming the disorder “anorexia hysterica”. He later changed “anorexia hysterica” to “anorexia nervosa” to avoid confusion with hysteria, which was a completely different mental disorder.

In 1980 the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, adds an eating disorders section.

Who first decribed Bulimia Nervosa?

Janet bulemia nervosa

In 1903 French neurologist Pierre Janet described the case of Nadia who displayed dietary restriction, fear of fatness, and episodes of binge eating. These are the major symptoms of bulimia nervosa.

Russell Bulemia nervosa

In 1979 British psychiatrist Gerald Russell formally described bulimia nervosa as a chronic phase of anorexia nervosa where patients overeat and then use compensatory mechanisms such as periods of starvation, vomiting, or laxatives.

In 1987 Bulimia is listed as a separate eating disorder in the DSM.

Who first described Binge Eating Disorder?

Stunkard Binge Eating

In 1959 the American psychiatrist Albert Stunkard described binge eating with the term “Night Eating Syndrome”. At the time, binge eating disorder was considered a symptom associated with bulimia nervosa.

It still took until 2013 before binge eating disorder was classified as its own condition in the DSM


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