Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that can have a variety of effects on your body.
What exactly is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders appear as severe disturbances in eating behaviour, such as an extreme decrease in food intake or extreme overeating, or extreme distress or concern about one’s body weight or shape.
Eating disorders are serious conditions characterised by persistent eating habits that have a negative impact on your health, emotions, and ability to function in important areas of life.
Eating disorders are a group of psychological conditions that lead to the development of unhealthy eating habits. They may begin with an obsessive focus on food, body weight, or body shape.
If left untreated, eating disorders can have serious health consequences and even result in death in severe cases. Eating disorders are among the most deadly mental illnesses, coming in second only to opioid overdose.
People suffering from eating disorders may exhibit a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms include severe food restriction, food binges, and purging behaviours such as vomiting or excessive exercise.
What causes eating disorders?
There are numerous factors at work when it comes to eating disorders, and despite scientific research, the biological, behavioural, and social determinants of these illnesses remain elusive.
• Genetics is one of these. People who have a sibling or parent who has an eating disorder appear to be more likely to develop one.
• Neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three personality traits that have been linked to an increased risk of developing an eating disorder.
• Other potential causes include perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness, and exposure to media that promotes these ideals.
Whether you’re here to learn more about your potential diagnosis or to support a friend or loved one who has recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, there’s a lot you can learn to help yourself or someone else. Learn more about the various types of eating disorders and how to identify the symptoms.
5 Types of eating disorders and their symptoms explained
1. Anorexia nervosa
Many people are already aware of it, given the fact that anorexia nervosa is the most well-known eating disorder. Anorexics generally perceive themselves as overweight, even if they are dangerously underweight. They tend to keep a close eye on their weight, avoid certain foods, and severely limit their calorie intake.
Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include
• very restricted eating patterns
• intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviours to avoid gaining weight, despite being underweight
• a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
• a heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem
• binge eat and then exhibit purging behaviours including self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, or over-exercising
• missing or irregular periods, thinning hair, dry skin, or issues with sleep.
Anorexia is officially classified into two subtypes: restricting anorexia and binge eating and purging anorexia. Anorexia can lead to heart, brain, or multi-organ failure and death.
2. Bulimia nervosa
People with bulimia frequently consume unusually large amounts of food at a specific time. Each binge eating episode typically lasts until the person is painfully full. During a binge, the person usually feels unable to stop eating or control how much they consume. Binges can occur with any type of food, but they are most commonly associated with foods that the individual would normally avoid.
Common symptoms of Bulimia nervosa include
• recurring episodes of binge eating with a sense of helplessness
• recurring episodes of inappropriate purging behaviours such as forced vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and excessive exercise to avoid weight gain
• self-esteem is overly influenced by body shape and weight
• fear of gaining weight despite having a normal weight
• needing to use the restroom after every meal
Bulimia can cause an inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel, tooth decay, acid reflux, gut irritation, severe dehydration, and hormonal disruptions. Bulimia can also cause an imbalance in electrolyte levels, in severe cases. This can result in a stroke or a heart attack.
3. Binge eating disorder (BED)
People have episodes of bingeing on large amounts of food in this. A binge is defined as excessive food consumption within two hours. Binges are accompanied by a trance-like state, feelings of guilt and shame later on, and additional weight gain. Binge eaters do not restrict calories or engage in purging behaviours such as vomiting or excessive exercise to compensate for their binges.
Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include
• eating large amounts of food quickly, secretly, and until uncomfortably full, despite not feeling hungry
• feeling a lack of control during episodes of binge eating
• feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust, or guilt, when thinking about the binge eating behaviour
• no use of purging behaviours to compensate for binge eating, such as calorie restriction, vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives or diuretics.
Heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes are all possible side effects of binge eating disorder. This is a comprehensive guide to overcoming Binge Eating Disorder.
Pica is an eating disorder characterised by the consumption of items that are not considered food and do not provide nutritional value. It is usually linked to another mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, or an intellectual or developmental disability.
Common symptoms of pica include
• a strong desire for non-food items such as ice, dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, cloth, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent, or cornstarch
• seen in people with conditions that interfere with daily functioning, such as intellectual disabilities, developmental conditions like autism spectrum disorder,
• mental health issues or an intellectual or developmental disability
Pica patients may be more susceptible to poisoning, infections, gut injuries, and nutritional deficiencies. Pica can be fatal depending on the substances consumed. Malnutrition is one of the warning signs of pica. Pica indicates that the body is attempting to correct a nutrient deficiency.
5. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
People with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID, fail to meet their minimum daily nutritional requirements because they dislike certain smells, tastes, colours, textures, or temperatures. ARFID is frequently associated with other psychological conditions such as OCD or anxiety.
Common symptoms of ARFID include
• food avoidance or restriction that prevents the person from consuming enough calories or nutrients
• eating habits that interfere with normal social functions, such as eating with others
• weight loss or poor development for age and height
• avoidance of food with specific sensory characteristics, such as colour, texture, smell, or taste, as well as the consequences of eating, such as choking
• nutrient deficiencies or dependence on supplements or tube feeding
People with ARFID frequently restrict certain foods because they are afraid of vomiting or having a severe allergic reaction to them. ARFID is not typically associated with a weight loss goal, though weight loss is possible when restricting food intake in this manner. ARFID side effects are commonly associated with anxiety and depression, as well as poor nutrition due to the avoidance of foods that are essential to a healthy, balanced diet.
Other eating disorders
In addition to the five eating disorders listed above, there are several others that are less well-known or less common.
• Purging disorder
• Night eating syndrome
• Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)
• Rumination disorder
• Muscle Dysmorphia
• Compulsive Over Eating (COE)
Eating Disorder Treatment
Most eating disorders are treatable with both psychological and medical interventions. However, no specific treatment has yet been identified for more chronic cases. Treatment plans in these cases frequently include monitoring tailored to the patient’s specific needs, medications, nutritional counselling, and individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy.