Common Types of Eating Disorders (and Their Symptoms)

Discover common types of eating disorders and their symptoms. Shedding light on the darkness around disordered eating.

April 25, 2024

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that affect a person's relationship with food and their body image. They can have serious physical, emotional, and social consequences. Understanding these disorders is crucial in order to recognize the signs and symptoms and provide appropriate support.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are characterized by abnormal eating behaviors and attitudes towards food and weight. They are not simply a matter of willpower or a desire to look a certain way. Rather, they are serious medical illnesses that require professional intervention.

Eating disorders can manifest in various ways and include different types, such as:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: An eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, severe restriction of food intake, and a distorted body image.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: An eating disorder marked by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: An eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, accompanied by a feeling of loss of control.
  • Orthorexia: Although not officially recognized as an eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), orthorexia involves an unhealthy obsession with eating "pure" or "clean" foods, which can lead to restrictive eating patterns and social isolation.
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED): A category that includes eating disorders that do not meet the specific criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, but still cause significant distress and impairment.

Impact of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can have severe physical, emotional, and social consequences. They can lead to malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and hormonal disturbances. Additionally, they can cause psychological distress, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

The impact of eating disorders extends beyond the individual suffering from the disorder. Family and friends may also experience emotional distress and struggle to understand and support their loved one. It is important to remember that eating disorders are not a choice, but rather a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

By raising awareness and understanding about eating disorders, we can break the stigma surrounding them and promote early detection and intervention. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is crucial to seek professional help and support. Recovery is possible with the right treatment and support system in place.

Anorexia Nervosa

Overview of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder that is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Individuals with anorexia nervosa often have a relentless pursuit of thinness, leading to extreme restrictive eating habits and excessive exercise.

The disorder typically begins during adolescence or young adulthood and is more common in females. Anorexia nervosa can have severe physical, emotional, and social consequences, and it requires professional intervention and treatment.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa can manifest in various ways and may vary from person to person. It is important to note that not all symptoms may be present, and the severity can range from mild to severe. Here are some common symptoms associated with anorexia nervosa:

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa and seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing these behaviors. Early intervention and treatment can greatly improve the chances of recovery and prevent further complications associated with this eating disorder.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. Individuals with bulimia nervosa often struggle with a distorted body image and have an intense fear of gaining weight. This section will provide an overview of bulimia nervosa and highlight its common symptoms.

Overview of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is marked by recurrent episodes of binge eating, which involves consuming an excessive amount of food within a short period while feeling a loss of control. These episodes are typically followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives or diuretics. Unlike anorexia nervosa, individuals with bulimia nervosa often maintain a relatively normal weight or may fluctuate within a normal weight range.

It's important to note that bulimia nervosa is not solely about food or weight. It is a complex mental health disorder that can have severe physical, emotional, and social consequences if left untreated.

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

Recognizing the symptoms of bulimia nervosa is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  1. Recurrent episodes of binge eating: Eating an excessive amount of food within a discrete period while feeling out of control.
  2. Compensatory behaviors: Engaging in behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, fasting, or using laxatives or diuretics.
  3. Fear of weight gain or body dissatisfaction: Having an intense fear of gaining weight or a preoccupation with body shape and size.
  4. Self-esteem based on body weight and shape: Placing a disproportionate amount of self-worth on weight and body image.
  5. Frequent fluctuations in weight: Individuals with bulimia nervosa may experience weight fluctuations within a normal range or maintain a relatively stable weight.
  6. Dental problems: Frequent exposure to stomach acid during self-induced vomiting can lead to dental issues such as tooth decay, enamel erosion, and gum problems.
  7. Gastrointestinal problems: The repeated bingeing and purging behaviors can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, such as acid reflux, bloating, and constipation.
  8. Secrecy and shame: Individuals with bulimia nervosa often try to hide their behaviors and may feel ashamed or guilty about their actions.

It's important to remember that not all individuals with bulimia nervosa will exhibit the same symptoms, and the severity of symptoms may vary. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is essential to seek professional help from healthcare providers who specialize in eating disorders.

Understanding the overview and symptoms of bulimia nervosa is an important step in raising awareness and promoting early detection and intervention for individuals affected by this eating disorder.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a common type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of uncontrollable overeating, typically accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. Individuals with BED often consume large amounts of food in a short period, even when they are not physically hungry. Let's take a closer look at the overview and symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder.

Overview of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. It is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming an excessive amount of food, often in secret or alone, and experiencing feelings of guilt, shame, and distress afterward.

Unlike other eating disorders, individuals with BED do not engage in compensatory behaviors such as purging or excessive exercise to counteract the binge episodes. This can lead to significant weight gain and the development of various physical and psychological health complications.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

To be diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder, an individual must exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. Recurrent binge eating episodes: This involves consuming a large amount of food within a specific time frame (e.g., two hours), accompanied by a feeling of lack of control.
  2. Eating rapidly: Binge episodes often involve rapid eating, consuming food much faster than normal.
  3. Eating until uncomfortably full: Individuals with BED may continue eating even when they feel physically uncomfortable due to the amount of food consumed.
  4. Eating large amounts without feeling hungry: Binge episodes are characterized by consuming excessive amounts of food, even in the absence of hunger.
  5. Eating alone or in secret: Many individuals with BED feel embarrassed or ashamed of their eating behaviors, leading them to eat in private or hide their food intake.
  6. Feelings of guilt and distress: After a binge episode, individuals with BED often experience intense guilt, shame, and distress about their eating behaviors.

It's important to note that Binge Eating Disorder is a complex condition that can have severe physical and emotional consequences. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have BED, it is crucial to seek professional help from a healthcare provider specializing in eating disorders.

Understanding the symptoms and seeking appropriate treatment is essential for managing Binge Eating Disorder and improving overall well-being.

Orthorexia

Overview of Orthorexia

Orthorexia is a lesser-known but increasingly recognized eating disorder characterized by an obsession with healthy eating. The term "orthorexia" is derived from the Greek words "ortho," meaning correct or right, and "orexia," meaning appetite. Individuals with orthorexia obsessively focus on consuming foods they perceive as healthy and pure, often limiting their diet to a narrow range of foods they consider "clean" or "pure."

Unlike other eating disorders, orthorexia is not primarily driven by concerns about body weight or shape. Instead, it is driven by an intense desire to achieve optimal health through diet. While a commitment to healthy eating is generally positive, orthorexia takes it to an extreme, leading to rigid food rules, obsessive thoughts about food quality, and a distorted relationship with food.

Symptoms of Orthorexia

Identifying orthorexia can be challenging as it is not yet formally recognized as a distinct eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, there are common signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of orthorexia:

  • Obsessive focus on quality and purity of food: Individuals with orthorexia may become preoccupied with the nutritional content, sourcing, and preparation methods of their food. They may spend excessive amounts of time researching and planning their meals to ensure they meet their strict criteria for healthiness.
  • Strict avoidance of certain food groups: Orthorexic individuals often eliminate entire food groups or specific ingredients from their diet, believing them to be unhealthy or impure. This can lead to a highly restricted and imbalanced diet that lacks essential nutrients.
  • Feelings of guilt and anxiety: Deviating from self-imposed dietary rules can cause significant distress, guilt, and anxiety. The fear of consuming "unhealthy" foods may trigger intense emotional reactions and compulsive behaviors.
  • Social isolation and avoidance: Orthorexic individuals may withdraw from social situations that involve food, making excuses to avoid eating out or attending events where they cannot control the food choices. This isolation can strain relationships and contribute to feelings of loneliness.
  • Impaired quality of life: Orthorexia can interfere with daily activities, relationships, and overall well-being. The rigid dietary rules and obsessive thoughts about food can consume a significant amount of time and mental energy, leading to decreased enjoyment of life.

It is important to note that the diagnosis of orthorexia can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms associated with orthorexia, seeking help from a healthcare provider, such as a therapist or registered dietitian, is crucial for proper evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

Overview of OSFED

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), formerly known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), is a category that encompasses various eating disorders that do not meet the specific criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Despite not fitting into these specific categories, individuals with OSFED still experience significant disturbances in their eating patterns and behaviors.

OSFED is a broad classification that includes several subtypes, such as atypical anorexia nervosa, subthreshold bulimia nervosa, purging disorder, and night eating syndrome. These subtypes share similarities with the more well-known eating disorders but may have unique features or present with different symptom profiles.

Symptoms of OSFED

The symptoms of OSFED are varied and can differ depending on the specific subtype. However, there are common features and behaviors that are often associated with this category of eating disorder. Some of the symptoms of OSFED include:

  1. Atypical Anorexia Nervosa: Individuals with atypical anorexia nervosa exhibit significant weight loss or restriction of food intake, but their weight remains within or above the normal range. They may have an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and engage in restrictive eating behaviors.
  2. Subthreshold Bulimia Nervosa: Subthreshold bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or fasting. However, these episodes may occur less frequently or the duration of binge eating or compensatory behaviors may be less severe compared to the criteria for bulimia nervosa.
  3. Purging Disorder: Individuals with purging disorder regularly engage in purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications to control their weight. However, they do not engage in binge eating episodes.
  4. Night Eating Syndrome: Night eating syndrome involves consuming a significant portion of daily caloric intake during the evening or nighttime hours. Individuals with this disorder may also experience a lack of appetite in the morning, have difficulty falling asleep, and use food as a way to cope with emotions or stress.

It's important to note that the symptoms of OSFED can have serious physical and psychological consequences, and individuals with this disorder may require professional help and support to overcome their challenges and achieve a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

Sources

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4152-eating-disorders

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-eating-disorders

https://adaa.org/eating-disorders/types-of-eating-disorders