Eating is a complicated part of life. It’s affected by all sorts of things like our genes, upbringing, mental health, media imagery, biological changes, and even injuries. This is why we see so many different types of eating disorders!
Each type has unique risk factors, consequences, and treatments. It can cause mental health symptoms such as depression or anxiety and physical health problems such as decreased bone density, heart failure, and potential death.
Currently, 8 types of eating disorders are recognized as medical diagnoses in the ICD and DSM-5-TR (these are two official manuals medical doctors and psychologists use to track valid diagnoses). However, there are also some “unofficial” types of eating disorders that mental health scientists recognize.
This article will explore the definition, causes, and all the different types of eating disorders, their signs and symptoms, and how to seek help for those struggling with an eating disorder.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses characterized by extreme disturbances to a person’s eating habits, thoughts, and feelings surrounding food, body image, and weight. This can affect anyone of any gender, age, or cultural background, though they usually first appear during adolescence or young adulthood.
Eating disorders arise when someone’s preoccupation with food, body shape, or weight causes significant distress. These preoccupations can lead to physical and psychological issues, such as erratic behavior around food and severe nutritional deficiencies.
The most common types of eating disorders include Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Pica. But recent additions to the DSM-5 list show several other formally recognized types of Eating Disorders.
People with eating disorders can lead happy and fulfilling lives with adequate treatment. If you think you may be suffering from an Eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately.
Common signs of an Eating Disorder:
While the signs of eating disorders vary depending on the type, there are some common symptoms to look out for if you suspect someone may be struggling with an eating disorder.
Below is a list of some of the most common signs of someone who is struggling with an eating disorder:
Mental and behavioral signs of an Eating Disorder:
- Changes in eating habits, such as skipping meals or avoiding certain foods;
- Increased focus on healthy eating, weight loss, and body shape;
- Unusual eating habits such as rapid eating, cutting food into small pieces, or hiding food;
- An unusual preoccupation with calories and fat content of foods and obsessively reading nutrition labels on food products;
- Frequent comments about being “fat” or “flawed” in appearance;
- Withdrawal from social activities involving food;
- Wearing bulky clothing or layers to hide the shape;
- Engaging in rituals around meals, such as excessive chewing;
- An excessive, rigid exercise regimen that seems inappropriate for the person’s age or activity level;
- Inability to control the amount being eaten;
- Visible signs of binge eating, such as disappearing to the bathroom after meals or hoarding food;
- Use of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, or vomiting to lose weight;
- Constant dieting despite being underweight.
Physical signs of an Eating Disorder:
- Unexplained weight loss or being underweight;
- Extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures;
- Dry skin, brittle nails, and hair loss;
- Abnormal laboratory values such as low potassium, iron, and sodium levels;
- Abnormal blood pressure, heart rate, and electrolyte levels;
- Swelling of the cheeks or jaw due to excess saliva;
- Fatigue, dizziness, and fainting spells;
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation or bloating;
- Loss of menstrual periods in women;
- Muscle wasting or weakness.
It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders so that early intervention can be sought for those struggling.
If you think someone may be confronting an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help. Eating disorders can have serious health consequences; the sooner they are treated, the better.
A licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, will be able to diagnose and provide treatment for eating disorders.
What Are the Causes of an Eating Disorder?
The exact cause of an eating disorder is unknown, but several factors can contribute to its development:
- Biological factors, such as genetic predisposition or an imbalance of hormones like leptin and serotonin.
- Psychological factors, such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, depression, or anxiety.
- Social and cultural influences that promote unrealistic body standards or reward thinness.
- Traumatic experiences in childhood or adulthood, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
- Disordered eating behaviors that may have been modeled in the family or by peers.
- Stressful life events, such as bullying, the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss.
- Medical conditions that can lead to malnutrition and an unhealthy relationship with food.
All Types of Eating Disorders Explained:
There are several different types of eating disorders that can affect individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Below, we will explore the most common eating disorders, their symptoms, and potential treatments.
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Experts consider anorexia nervosa to be the most deadly of all mental illnesses because it has the highest mortality rate. For this reason, we can consider it the most severe of all eating disorders.
This condition involves severe food restriction and sometimes extreme exercising and other purging behaviors.
The individual will typically show these signs and symptoms:
2. Bulimia Nervosa
This condition, bulimia nervosa, occurs when someone is repeatedly binging on large amounts of food and then purging it. Purging behaviors include forcing oneself to throw up, over-exercising, and using diet pills and laxatives. Both binging and purging behaviors are dangerous, and together they can quickly lead to dangerous physical symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa may include:
3. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
BED is characterized by episodes of binging on large amounts of food. A binge describes when someone consumes an excessive amount of food within a period of two hours. Binges are accompanied by a trance-like state, feeling guilty and ashamed afterward, and weight gain. Unlike bulimia, BED does not usually include any purging behaviors. Typically, those affected by BED are overweight or obese because of the binging.
Common signs and symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder may include:
Pica is an eating disorder in which a person craves and consumes non-food items such as dirt, clay, chalk, paper, laundry starch, ice chips, or even hair. This Disorder is marked by the continued consumption of these non-nutritive substances for at least one month.
Pica can occur in adults and children and is more common in those with developmental disabilities. Generally, people who suffer from Pica are malnourished and at risk for other health complications due to the lack of proper nutrition.
Common signs and symptoms of Pica may include:
5. Rumination disorder:
Rumination disorder is an eating disorder in which a person brings up previously swallowed food and chews it repeatedly, regurgitating and re-chewing the partially digested food before swallowing it again, a process that can continue for several minutes. This condition is more common in young children of early school age but may persist until adulthood. People with rumination disorder are often unaware of their behaviors or don’t report feelings of distress when engaging in them.
Common signs and symptoms of Rumination disorder include:
6. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder characterized by severe restriction and avoidance of certain foods or entire food groups. It is much more common than previously thought, especially in young children. ARFID can range from mild to severe, with some individuals only eating a minimal variety of food due to fear of choking, texture issues, unknown ingredients, or other psychological reasons. This can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, and impaired growth.
Common signs and symptoms of ARFID include:
7. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED):
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) is an eating disorder classification for those who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for any other type of eating disorder. It is a broad category that includes people with disordered eating habits but doesn’t fit into the categories of Anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating Disorder. People with OSFED may display symptoms of one or more of these disorders, but their symptoms may not be severe enough to meet the full criteria for diagnosis.
Here are some examples of OSFED:
– Atypical anorexia nervosa:
Atypical anorexia nervosa is a restrictive eating disorder similar to anorexia nervosa but does not involve the same level of weight loss. Unlike traditional anorexia nervosa, individuals with atypical Anorexia nervosa may be of average or higher weight.
– Binge Eating Disorder (of low frequency or limited duration):
It is a form of BED that involves episodes of binge eating but at a lower frequency or shorter duration than the typical Binge Eating Disorder. It is marked by binge eating episodes that occur fewer than once per week or last less than three months.
– Bulimia Nervosa (of low frequency or limited duration):
This is a form of Bulimia Nervosa that involves episodes of binge eating, followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviors, at a lower frequency or shorter duration than the typical Bulimia Nervosa. The episodes occur fewer than once per week or last less than three months.
– Purging Disorder:
Purging eating disorder is an extreme form of disordered eating in which individuals eat excessive amounts of food followed by self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse, diuretic abuse, or other forms of Purging. This behavior can be hazardous and lead to severe medical complications such as electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, organ damage, and nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, it can cause significant psychological distress as individuals struggle with guilt, shame, and a lack of control over their eating behaviors.
– Night Eating Syndrome:
Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is an eating disorder characterized by excessive food intake late at night. Individuals with NES often wake up during the night and consume a large amount of food, sometimes even consuming more calories than they do during the day. People with NES tend to have disrupted sleep patterns and find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep without eating. This behavior can lead to dangerous health consequences such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, depression, and anxiety.
8. Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED):
Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED) is a category of Eating disorders that includes individuals with disordered eating behaviors but do not fit into the criteria for any other specific disorder.
Symptoms of UFED may consist of distorted body image, excessive dieting or exercise, extreme worry about food intake and weight gain, and guilt after eating certain foods. Individuals with UFED may have symptoms that are similar to those of Anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating Disorder. Still, they do not meet all of the diagnostic criteria for any one disorder.
9. “Unofficial” Eating Disorder Diagnoses
These disorders are not included in any diagnostic manual, but doctors and psychologists still use these terms. Practitioners often group people with these conditions into OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorder, as the official diagnosis. However, these terms are more specific and can help us communicate more clearly.
– Compulsive Over Eating (COE):
This disorder is similar to binge eating disorder. What makes COE unique is that the individual doesn’t binge in spurts, but rather eats large amounts of food all day long.
– Prader Willi Syndrome:
This syndrome, which leads to compulsive eating and obesity, is caused by an inherited genetic disease. It begins with weak muscles, poor feeding, and slow development in babies. Then, in childhood, the disease causes insatiable hunger. Children with Prader Willi Syndrome often develop diabetes and struggle to adapt to a normal lifestyle.
This occurs when someone who is diabetic uses their prescription insulin to try to induce weight loss.
– Orthorexia Nervosa (a term coined by the writer and medical doctor Steven Bratman):
We are all under pressure to eat healthier for various reasons. In the case of orthorexia nervosa, someone becomes so obsessed with planning a perfect diet that it disrupts their life.
With a slightly crass-sounding name, this term describes an eating disorder that is accompanied by alcoholism as well. The drunkorexia individual restricts food and purges to “save calories” for drinking alcohol. Severe malnutrition can develop when drunkorexia goes untreated.
Since it is fairly common knowledge that pregnancy leads to weight gain and other bodily changes, so most women go into pregnancy with a weight loss plan. Sometimes, the weight loss plan can be too extreme and can endanger both mom and baby. Pregorexia can lead to low birth weight, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease risk, and depression.
How to know if you have an Eating Disorder?
The most important step to knowing if you or a loved one have an eating disorder is awareness of the warning signs and symptoms. If any of the signs and symptoms we discussed above sound familiar or you are experiencing significant distress related to eating habits and body image issues, it may be beneficial for you to seek help from a mental health professional.
A qualified healthcare provider can issue an accurate diagnosis and create an individualized eating disorder treatment plan to help you achieve lasting recovery.
Types of Treatment for Eating Disorders:
It can be difficult to find the right type of treatment for eating disorders. It is important that the eating disorder treatment program has a full staff dedicated to eating disorder treatment that would include a medical doctor, eating disorder therapists, eating disorder registered dietitians, and support staff that understand and support the eating disorder program and most importantly the client.
Each type of treatment for eating disorders requires the program to consider what the client is struggling with in their relationship with food, weight and body image, in addition to the potential medical consequences that can accompany the specific type of eating disorder. This way the entire team can support each client’s individual recovery with optimum care.
Breathe Life Healing Centers addresses the types of treatment for eating disorders from this perspective. No one person is the same. Our treatment for eating disorders focuses on supporting and understand each person’s clinical, emotional, and medical needs. Our Medical Director is a regarded expert in treating eating disorders, as well as our eating disorder dietitians, eating disorder therapists and staff.
Call now (800) 929-5904 for an assessment with our admissions department to see what type of eating disorder treatment can support your recovery. You can be free!
Get Help at Breathe’s Eating Disorder Treatment Center
Eating disorders can be life-threatening, so it’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder early. If you or someone close to you is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out for help as soon as possible.
Our world-renowned Eating Disorder Treatment in Los Angeles involves an individualized plan that includes therapy, nutrition counseling, medication management, and holistic activities such as yoga and mindfulness. With an effective treatment plan, an individual can achieve lasting recovery. If you or someone close to you is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out for help today.