Common Types of Eating Disorders: Symptoms and Ways to Overcome Them

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on September 25, 2019

Some of us may think that eating disorders are just fads, phases, or lifestyle choices. However, they are considered as serious mental disorders that should not be taken for granted.

In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health describes eating disorders as fatal illnesses (1) that affect not just our eating behavior, but also our emotions and thoughts.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) officially recognize eating disorders as mental disorders. Do you know that around 10 million men and 20 million women suffer from eating disorders at some moment of their lives?

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are manifested by disturbed or abnormal eating habits. Usually, these are caused by an obsession with body weight, body shape, and food and oftentimes result in more serious health repercussions. There are even cases when these result in mortality.

There are actually various symptoms of eating disorders, depending on the individual. But most individuals commonly experience food binges, severe restriction of food, or inappropriate purging behaviors like over-exercising or vomiting.

Regardless of gender and age, eating disorders can affect anyone. But, usually, this kind of disorder is suffered by adolescents and young women. A study shows that 13 percent of youth (2) by the age of 20 experience at least one eating disorder.

What causes eating disorders?

There are different factors why people experience eating disorders. Perhaps, one of the causes of eating disorders is genetics. A study shows that eating disorders may be hereditary. Even if twins were separated at birth, there is a 50 percent probability (3) that one will experience an eating disorder if the other already develops such disorder.

The other cause is personality traits. Impulsivity, perfectionism, and neuroticism are personality traits which are oftentimes connected to an increased risk of eating disorders.

Other reasons include our cultural perception of thinness, pressures to become thin, and media exposure promoting ideals of thinness.

Do you know that according to a study, eating disorder is not a problem in most cultures (4) that are not exposed to the Western perception of thinness? The perception of thinness is actually present in many parts of the world.

Types of eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Perhaps, the most well-known eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. Usually, this disorder arises during young adulthood or adolescence. But, anorexia nervosa usually affects women than men.

Usually, people who suffer from anorexia nervosa eat small quantities of food, leading to starvation. People who starve may become malnourished. But, they still look at themselves as overweight.

According to WebMD (5), people with anorexia nervosa become undernourished that they need to be given medical attention. They even still think that there’s nothing wrong with them even if they already lack nutrients due to starvation.

Here are the common symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

  • Eating patterns are very restricted.
  • Weight is considerably lower compared to others of the same height and age.
  • Despite being underweight, there is an extreme fear to gain weight
  • Constant refusal to attain a healthy weight, fierce pursuit to maintain thinness
  • Self-esteem is heavily influenced by body shape or body weight
  • Persistent denial of being underweight

Bulimia Nervosa

This serious eating disorder is described by a cycle of compensatory behaviors and bingeing (6). In order to compensate for binge eating, people with bulimia nervosa usually induce to vomit.

If you are bingeing, you cannot stop yourself from eating too much. You don’t have that sense of control even if you know that you have taken a lot of foods. You also eat in a discrete period of time. You probably eat more foods compared to most people under the same circumstances.

But, in order to avoid gaining weight, you manifest inappropriate compensatory behaviors. You probably misuse diuretics, laxatives, or other medications. You may have induced yourself to vomit. You may engage in excessive exercise. Or maybe, you are fasting.

Here are the common symptoms of bulimia nervosa:

  • The primary concerns of people suffering from bulimia nervosa are to lose weight, to diet, and to control food
  • A large number of foods are consumed when binge eating
  • One shows a purging behavior if he has frequent trips to the comfort room after meals, just to vomit
  • Not used to eating when others are around
  • Have food rituals
  • Food hoardings
  • Extreme concern with body shape and body weight, these influence self-esteem
  • Weight fluctuations, both up and down

People with bulimia may also suffer from inflammation of the throat, salivary glands, and tooth. Acid reflux, hormonal disturbances, and severe dehydration can also be experienced. In severe cases of bulimia, people suffer from imbalances of electrolytes.

Binge Eating Disorder

According to a study, eating disorders are rare among the general population (7). All kinds of eating disorders have a high risk of mortality. Perhaps, the most striking is anorexia nervosa as compared to other eating disorders. But, men and older individuals commonly experience binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder is often characterized by consuming an unusual amount of foods or compulsive overeating without the sense of self-control. On Average, this occurs twice a week for six months.

According to Eating Disorder Hope (8), binge eating disorder is first referred to as Night Eating Syndrome (NES). But, it was named as such in order to remove the nocturnal aspect of the disorder. Well, in the first place, binge eating disorder does not only occur at night.

Both men and women can experience binge eating disorder even if they have normal weights. Undoubtedly, excessive eating can lead to weight gain, much worse obesity. And if that happens, people engage in compulsive eating.

Usually, if you are suffering from binge eating disorder, you feel guilty, disgusted, or depressed. Because of that, you will be most likely to continue eating foods to cope up with negative feelings until it becomes a vicious cycle. That’s why it’s very essential to treat eating disorders.

Here are the common symptoms of binge eating disorder:

  • Excessive eating even if full
  • Unable to control or stop yourself from eating excessive foods
  • Hoards food surreptitiously to consume them at a later time
  • Normal eating around others, but gorging if alone
  • Eating excessively to relieve stress or anxiety
  • Never felt satisfied with foods

Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder is a condition in which a person brings swallowed food up again to the mouth. This kind of condition does not involve a conscious decision, but it is a reflex response of the body because of the disorder. Although it is normal in cows, this is not in human beings as rumination is not part of our digestion system.

Do you know that even if you are healthy, it is still possible that you experience rumination disorder? You will probably ruminate 1 to 2 hours after most meals (9).

Here are the common symptoms of rumination disorder:

  • Continuous regurgitation of food
  • Repeated indigestion and stomach aches
  • Results to weight loss
  • Chapped lips
  • Tooth decay and bad breath

This is actually a newly recognized eating disorder, and the exact cause of this is not yet known. However, there are various factors which contribute to its development.

If you are severely stressed or physically ill, such eating disorder will probably trigger. If a mother and a child don’t have a normal relationship, it may cause the child to comfort himself. Perhaps, chewing means self-comfort. Sometimes, it is a way for him to get attention from the mother.

Pica

Pica is also a new condition which is characterized by craving non-edible substances such as soil, dirt, soap, chalk, hair, wool, laundry detergent, cornstarch, pebbles, cloth, or paper. This kind of eating condition does not only occur in adults, but also in adolescents and children.

Usually, pica is experienced by pregnant women, children, and people suffering from mental disabilities (10). And this can be detrimental to them because they have an increased risk of infections, poisoning, nutrition deficiencies, and gut injuries. It can even result in mortality.

However, the eating of non-edible substances should not be considered as normal in someone’s religion or culture. Also, it should not be a socially acceptable practice.

Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood is actually replaced to Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This kind of disorder usually occurs during infancy or early childhood. But, it is possible that this can even persist during adulthood. Plus, it can be suffered by both men and women.

If you are not interested in eating or you feel a strong distaste for certain tastes, smells, textures, colors, or temperatures, you are most likely experiencing an eating disorder.

Here are the common symptoms of Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder:

  • From the name itself, there is avoidance or restriction of food consumption which lead to a deficiency in nutrients or calories
  • Usually, don’t eat with others
  • Poor development or weight loss for height and age
  • Deficient in nutrients, usually dependent on supplements to get the nutrients needed

There are various eating disorders that are known today. Eating disorders should not be taken for granted because these are actually serious health conditions which should be given immediate treatment.

How to Overcome Eating Disorders

Here are the steps on how to overcome eating disorders:

Step 1: Establish your treatment team

Eating disorders have serious medical, emotional, and nutritional consequences that are the reasons why it is crucial for you to seek a team of experts who can address your problem. In choosing a professional who can fit your needs, you should make sure that you feel accepted, safe, and comfortable in whatever aspect of your treatment.

Step 2: Address your problems

Do you know that eating disorders can be fatal? You will not only experience a change of weight, but there are also other worse effects if you are suffering from eating disorders.

Even if the binging, purging, or fasting is occasional, your health will still be in danger. So, it is very essential for you to have a full medical evaluation. If it is found out that you have health problems, then you should prioritize to treat them.

Step 3: Create a long-term treatment plan

If your health problems are already in control, you should make a long-term treatment plan to recover entirely.

There are many treatment plans available, including individual, group, or family therapy. Therapy can foster you with your eating disorders. It will allow you to build self-esteem. It can help you learn ways in order to respond to emotional pain and stress. Anyway, different methods are used by different therapists, so it’s better to personalize your therapy according to your own special needs.

Step 4: Know self-help strategies

Indeed, it is very essential to seek help from experts. But, you should also consider your role to recover from an eating disorder. If you are motivated to learn about your problem and cope up with this, then you will feel the change and healing.

Conclusion:

Eating disorders are characterized in many ways. But, all of these are conditions which can have detrimental consequences in our health. In fact, 10 million men and 20 million women (11) in the US are suffering from eating disorders.

Usually, eating disorders are triggered by low self-esteem, trauma, and mental illness. Well, the symptoms of each eating disorder are different, but the most important thing to do is to overcome these conditions.

You should address your problem, establish a treatment team, create a long-term plan, and know self-help strategies to overcome these eating disorders. These conditions are not normal, so you should make sure that you find ways to get rid of these problems; otherwise, these will become severe, much worse these will lead to death.

References:

(1) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23148784
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26095891
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12956542
(5) https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/understanding-anorexia-basics
(6) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bulimia
(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409365/
(8) https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/binge-eating-disorder
(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3061016/
(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4015153/
(11) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201805/personality-traits-those-who-overcome-eating-disorders

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