Types of Eating Disorders
Knowing about the types of eating disorders gives you the ability to help you or a loved one who may be experiencing an eating disorder.
At least 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders, and you have probably heard of anorexia and bulimia (even if you have not experienced these illnesses).
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is an eating behavior that has a negative impact on your health, emotions and ability to function in certain areas of your life.
Eating disorders usually develop during teen and young adult years, but they can start at any age. A variety of treatments are available.
Here are the five common types of eating disorders, their symptoms, co-morbid illnesses and treatment options.
Types of Eating Disorders
1. Anorexia Nervosa
Commonly known as anorexia, about 0.9% of American women suffer from this illness during their lifetime, with one in five anorexia deaths being related to suicide.
People with this illness see themselves as overweight even when they are severely underweight. Because of this, they avoid eating certain types of food and restrict their calories.
Anorexia usually develops during adolescents or young adulthood and affects more women than men. Severe cases may result in organ failure and death.
The common symptoms vary and may include:
- Being underweight compared to people of a similar age and height.
- Restriction of food, sometimes to near starvation levels. People may also restrict their eating patterns.
- Having an intense fear of gaining any weight. Sufferers are usually unwilling to retain a healthy weight. This is because they have a distorted body image.
- Denial of being underweight. People can go through a never-ending pursuit of being thin, but can never reach a point where they feel that they are thin enough.
- It has been found that obsessive-compulsive symptoms are often present in those with anorexia. This means that they may also develop obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD).
- High levels of anxiety and mood disorders are also present in anorexia sufferers.
2. Bulimia Nervosa
Another potentially life-threatening eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. Bulimia is characterized by binge-eating, followed by compensatory behaviors or purging (like self-induced vomiting). These actions, in the mind of the sufferer, compensate for their binge eating.
Bulimia also usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood, and almost 1.5% of American women may suffer from bulimia during their lifetime.
Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:
- Recurrent episodes of binge-eating, with a feeling they lack control while eating.
- Inappropriate purging behaviors (including self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives, etc.) after binges to prevent weight gain (at least once a week for three months).
- A fear of gaining weight (despite being at a normal weight) or a self-esteem that is overly reliant on body image and weight.
The side effects of bulimia may include:
- Inflamed and sore throat.
- Swollen salivary glands.
- Worn tooth enamel, tooth discoloration and tooth decay (due to vomiting).
- Acid reflux.
- Gut irritation.
- Severe dehydration.
- Hormonal disturbances.
- Imbalance in electrolytes that could cause a stroke or heart attack.
As with anorexia nervosa, high levels of anxiety and mood disorders have been diagnosed in people suffering from bulimia.
3. Binge-Eating Disorder
Not to be confused with bulimia, or the binge sub-type of anorexia, binge-eating disorder is a third eating disorder that can reap havoc on your body. Binge-eating disorder is actually one of the most common eating disorders in the U.S. at the moment.
Characterized by eating large amounts of food at one time, sufferers of binge-eating disorder do not use purging as bulimia sufferers do.
- Sufferers are often overweight or obese.
- They eat at large amounts of food in short periods of time with a feeling that they cannot stop until they are uncomfortably full. Eating may also take place in secret. According to the DSM-5, the binges must occur at least once a week for three months.
- There is no purging behavior, calorie restriction, excessive exercise, diuretic usage or laxative usage.
Sufferers have an increased risk for medical complications due to excess weight. This includes heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Characteristics of a Binge-Eating Episode
A binge-eating episode must be associated with at least three of the following characteristics:
- Eating quickly.
- Eating until one feels uncomfortably full.
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
- Eating alone due to embarrassment at the amount of food eaten.
- Feelings of self-disgust, guilt or depression after a binge.
4. Rumination Disorder
Rumination disorder is an eating disorder that has only recently been recognized as such by the DSM-5. Sufferers of this condition regurgitate food they have previously chewed and swallowed. They then re-chew, re-swallow or spit the food out.
Regurgitation usually occurs within half an hour of eating. However, unlike reflux — which is a medical condition on its own — the regurgitation of food in this disorder is voluntary.
Rumination disorder may develop during infancy (between 3 and 12 months of age), childhood or adulthood. Although this behavior is usually resolved on its own in babies, children and adults need therapy to resolve it.
Rumination disorder is treated through a combination of breathing exercises and habit reversal. In essence, the sufferer is taught how to use diaphragmatic breathing techniques after eating. This is to keep regurgitation from happening and to replace a dangerous eating disorder with a safe habit.
The fifth eating disorder is called pica. This eating disorder involves the sufferer eating items or substances that are (usually) not food, and do not have significant nutritional value. The substances may even be poisonous.
According to the DSM-5, the eating of these substances stretches over a month or more, and must not be part of a culturally-supported or socially-normative practice. For example, the eating of specific clay is part of certain cultures’ medicinal practices. In cases like this, it would not be described as pica.
The age of the person in question must also be taken into context, as placing small objects in the mouth (which may lead to ingestion of it) is normal developmental behavior in children younger than 2 years old.
Pica can point to iron deficiency, anemia or malnutrition. A percentage of pregnant women also have pica and is usually as a sign of iron or other vitamin/mineral deficiency. Treatment usually takes the form of supplements in these cases.
Pica may also occur in conjunction with mental health disorders. These are associated with impaired functioning and include:
- Intellectual disability.
- Autism spectrum disorder.
Substances or Items Eaten by Pica Sufferers
There are a wide variety of substances and items eaten by Pica sufferers, and these can include:
- Ice (which may point an iron deficiency).
- Talcum powder.
- Paint chips (which may cause lead poisoning).
- Ash or dust.
- Clay or dirt.
Some of the substances that are consumed may be poisonous enough to cause severe internal injury or death. Therefore, pica should not be taken lightly.
Treatment Options for Different Types of Eating Disorders
All hope should not be lost, as there are certain treatments that are available for those who suffer from eating disorders. These treatment options include:
- Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Medication is available that may serve to treat comorbid illnesses, like OCD or anxiety or mood disorders.
- National Eating Disorders Association (Anorexia Nervosa)
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (Eating Disorder Statistics)
- National Eating Disorders Association (Bulimia Nervosa)
- National Institute of Mental Health (Eating Disorders)
- Eating Disorder Hope (Eating Disorders Statistics & Research)
- Psychiatry.org (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5))
- National Eating Disorders Association (Pica)
- National Eating Disorders Association (Rumination Disorder)
- International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation (The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and the OCD Part of the Spectrum)
- Healthline (6 Common Types of Eating Disorders (and Their Symptoms))