What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can be characterized by persistent or constant changes in eating behaviors that are typically related to weight gain or restricting eating. Eating disorders can be extremely serious conditions that affect eating behaviors in a psychological, social, and physical function. People suffering from eating disorders usually have a distorted body dysmorphia and may have an intense fear of gaining weight. These serious mental health disorders and behaviors result in developing an abnormal relationship with food.

The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Other, lesser-known eating disorders are pica, rumination disorder and ARFID. OSFED, or Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders, is a classification for those who do not meet diagnostic criteria for any other eating disorder. Someone who has an eating disorder may experience medical complications, as some eating disorders can be life-threatening. It is important to reach out to a mental health professional who can provide medical advice if you believe that you or someone you know has an eating disorder.

Types of Eating Disorders

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder and other disorders causing low self- esteem, distorted body shape or a weight distorted body image.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is another eating disorder with eating habits that can be described as a lack of control when eating or someone who eats large amounts of food at one time. This person may eat more food than intended, eats fast during binge episodes, eats quickly, or has a large food intake despite being excessively full. After a binge eating session, you may feel ashamed, guilty, or disgusted by your behavior and the amount of food after eating, frequently dieting without weight loss.

Bulimia nervosa and binge eating are quite different in that a binge eating disorder does not involve any purging episodes or excessive exercise to compensate for the excess food that someone has eaten. Although they are different, both eating disorders may pose serious health consequences

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling hungry
  • Eating more rapidly than normal
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty afterward
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a common eating disorder that causes a person to focus heavily on their weight, body mass index, and body shape. A person with anorexia nervosa constantly thinks about how to lose weight, obsesses about weight loss, engages in excessive exercise, and may experience purging behaviors to avoid the chance that they will gain weight. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa may result in significant weight loss or excessive exercise.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
  • Extremely restricted eating patterns or extreme healthy eating
  • Focusing relentlessly on being thin
  • Misrepresented body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by a perception of body shape and weight, or a denial of serious low body weight
  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • Exercising excessively
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Unwilling to maintain a normal or healthy weight

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa, have experiences of bingeing and purging behaviors that are a result of a lack of control over their eating habits. Binges occur at least weekly and are typically followed by what are called “compensatory behaviors” to prevent weight gain. These can include laxative misuse, vomiting, fasting, or exercising excessively.

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom right after eating large amounts of food
  • Large amounts of food disappearing or unexplained empty wrappers and food containers
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks
  • Dental decay resulting from erosion of tooth enamel by stomach acid
  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Diet pill misuse or the use of laxatives to achieve weight loss
  • Recurrent unexplained diarrhea
  • Misuse of diuretics (water pills)
  • Fainting or feeling dizzy or from excessive purging behaviors that result in dehydration

Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder involves repetitive regurgitation or re-chewing your food after you eat whereby swallowed food is brought back up into the mouth voluntarily and is re-chewed and re-swallowed or spit out.

Symptoms of Rumination Disorder
  • Regurgitation not due to a gastrointestinal or medical problem
  • Occurs repeatedly over at least a 1-month period
  • Rumination can also occur in other mental health concerns; however, the degree must be severe enough to warrant separate clinical attention for the diagnosis to be made.
  • Does not occur as part of one of the other behavioral eating disorders listed above

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is newly diagnosed according to the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5) and was previously called “Selective Eating Disorder.” ARFID is like anorexia nervosa because both disorders involve limiting the types and/or amount of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, someone with ARFID does not have a fear of gaining too much wait or concerns about body size or shape.

This disorder is characterized by having a lack of interest in eating, and specifically failing to meet your minimum daily nutrition requirements. The person may avoid foods with certain sensory characteristics, such as texture, smell, color, or taste. People with an autism spectrum disorder are at a much higher risk for developing ARFID, as are those with ADHD and intellectual disabilities.

It is important to note that AFRID is very commonly misdiagnosed, and it is an extremely rare condition. Most common eating disorders can be classified as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or rumination disorder.

Other Specified Eating Disorders

Other specified eating disorders may include:

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa – people who are suffering from atypical anorexia nervosa, someone who has met all the criteria for anorexia except being underweight without any substantial weight loss;
  • Atypical bulimia nervosa, someone who meets all criteria for bulimia except those bulimic behaviors have not been ongoing for long enough or are less frequent.
  • Night eating syndrome (NES) simply stated occurs when someone overeats at night and then has a problem with sleep. Many times, a person with NES will wake up at night and eat. This becomes a compulsive behavior.

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