Although eating disorders refer to food, they are not limited to it. Often, mental health experts must intervene to change the course of these complex disorders.
This information is found in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
There are six types of eating disorders, and this article discusses the symptoms of each of them.
What are eating disorders?
Approximately 20 million American women and 10 million American men have an eating disorder or have had one at some point in their lives.
An eating disorder is a serious condition caused by persisting eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions, and your ability to function in important areas of your life. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders are among the most common eating disorders.
Many eating disorders result from an excessive focus on body weight, body shape and food, resulting in dangerous eating behaviors. When you experience these behaviors, your body is less likely to receive the proper nutrition. Heart, digestive, bone, teeth and mouth problems can result from eating disorders, as well as other diseases.
Teenage and young adult eating disorders relatively often develop, although other ages may also become affected. When you are treated for an eating disorder, you can return to healthier eating habits and in some cases, reverse serious complications.
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What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders are believed to be a result of a variety of factors.
Genetics is one of them. Some twin and adoption studies have shown that eating disorders may be hereditary when they are passed from parents to children.
A few research studies have shown that, on average, if one twin gets an eating disorder, the other has a 50% chance of getting one, too.
Another factor is personality traits. An eating disorder is more likely to develop if you have high levels of neuroticism, perfectionism and impulsiveness.
A person may also be subject to perceived thinness pressures, cultural preferences for thinness and media messages promoting thinness.
Several eating disorders don’t seem to exist in cultures that don’t know the western notions of thinness.
Nonetheless, thinness is highly valued throughout the world, especially in places where culture accepts it as an ideal. However, eating disorders are uncommon in some countries. Therefore, a combination of factors may be responsible for their occurrence.
The recent development of eating disorders has also been linked to differences in brain structure and biology.
There is perhaps some relation between levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Before making strong conclusions, more research is required.
Summary: There are several possible causes of eating disorders. The genetic makeup, brain biochemistry, personality traits and cultural ideals all play a role.
Read: Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Types of eating disorders
1. Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is likely the most widely-known eating disorder.
It generally occurs during adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in women than in men.
Although anorexics are dangerously underweight, they expect themselves to be overweight. People who are overweight tend to restrict calories, eat certain types of foods less often and monitor their weight constantly.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms include:
- Comparing your weight to that of similar-sized and aged people
- Dietary restrictions
- Underweight people who are unable to gain weight, even though they think they should gain weight
- Lack of commitment to maintaining a healthy weight and a relentless quest for thinness
- Self-esteem is heavily influenced by body weight or perceived body shape
- Denial of being seriously underweight, as well as distorted body image
There are also often symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The irrational obsession with food is often a symptom of anorexia, and some may even hoard food or collect recipes.
Also, these individuals may be averse to eating in public and may have strong control over their environment, making it difficult to be spontaneous.
Officially, anorexia can be divided into two types – either a restricting type or a binge and purge type.
Dieters, fasters, or excessive exercise are the methods they use to lose weight.
People with this type of eating disorder may eat too little or consume large portions of food. After eating, both types of people purge their systems with activities like vomiting, taking laxatives, pressing themselves to extremes or exercising excessively.
The body can suffer a lot of damage from anorexia. The skin affected by it may experience hair and nail thinning and brittleness over time, and fine hair may grow on every surface of the body.
Death can result from anorexia in severe cases because the heart, brain, or multiple organs fail.
The physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa include having a limited intake of food or compensating for it with various purging behaviors. When severely underweight, they feel intense anxiety about gaining weight.
Read: Emotional disorders
2. Bulimia nervosa
One of the well-known eating disorders is bulimia nervosa.
It seems to be less common among men than among women and develops during adolescence and early adulthood like anorexia.
A person who suffers from bulimia frequently eats a great deal of food over a few days or weeks.
An individual usually becomes painfully full after each binge eating episode. It is common for the person to feel as if they are unable to control how much they are eating or stop eating during a binge.
A person can binge on anything, but usually, he or she will binge on foods they normally avoid. After eating excessive calories and having stomach discomfort, individuals with bulimia purge to compensate.
Purging commonly involves forced vomiting, enemas, fasting, diuretics, laxatives and excessive exercise.
Anorexia nervosa can display very similar symptoms to binge eating or purging forms of the disorder. In contrast, people with bulimia generally do not become underweight while they remain relatively normal weight.
These are some of the common symptoms of bulimia nervosa:
- Frequently bingeing with a sense of controllessness
- Purging to avoid gaining weight is inappropriate behavior that occurs repeatedly
- Body shape and weight are overly influential on self-esteem
- Although they are a normal weight, they fear gaining weight
Bulimia can cause an inflamed throat, inflammation of the salivary glands, worn teeth enamel, decay, acid reflux, digestive disturbances, dehydration and hormonal imbalances.
An imbalance of salts, potassium, and calcium can also be caused by bulimia in severe cases. Heart attacks and strokes are caused by this.
The main symptom of bulimia nervosa is overeating fast followed by purging. Even though their weight is normal, they are afraid of gaining weight.
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3. Binge eating disorder
In the United States, binge eating disorder is estimated to be among the most common eating disorders.
As an adolescent or early adult, it can also occur later in life. This disorder exhibits symptoms similar to bulimia or anorexia with binge eating.
Their binges are typically intense and they feel out of control as a result of consuming extremely large amounts of food. Binge eating disorders are not accompanied by calorie restriction or purging activities such as vomiting or excessive exercise.
The following are common symptoms of binge eating disorder:
- Despite not feeling hungry, eating large quantities of food rapidly and in secret
- Being unable to control eating during binge episodes
- When thinking about binge eating, one may feel shame, disgust or guilt
- Purging behaviors, such as excessive exercise, vomiting, calorie restriction or laxatives and diuretics cannot be used to compensate for binging
Obese or overweight individuals often suffer from binge eating disorders. As a result, they may be exposed to the risk of excess weight-related medical complications, such as heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes.
Binge eating disorders cause people to consume large quantities of food uncontrollably and regularly. They do not purge like people with other eating disorders.
Pica is another eating disorder in which you eat things that aren’t considered food.
Patients with pica are insatiably interested in outside substances such as ice, dirt, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, cloth, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent or cornstarch.
Children, adolescents, and adults may suffer from pica. Accordingly, this disorder is usually found in children, pregnant women, and people with mental disabilities.
A person with pica is more likely to suffer poisoning, infections, stomach injuries and nutritional deficiencies. Ingestion of certain substances can cause pica, which can be fatal.
If someone eats non-food substances as part of their culture or religion, it must not be considered pica. Peers must also not consider it an acceptable practice.
The eating of non-food substances is the craving and behavior of individuals with pica syndrome. Those with mental disabilities, children, and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to this disease.
Related: Pica in Pregnancy
5. Rumination disorder
One of the newly recognized eating disorders is rumination disorder.
It refers to the act of chewing and swallowing food before it is regurgitated, then chewing it again before being swallowed or spit out again.
Rumination usually occurs after eating within 30 minutes. It’s not a medical condition like reflux.
It can affect a child in infancy, a child in childhood, or an adult in adulthood. It usually develops between the ages of 3-12 months in infants and disappears on its own. Therapy is usually required to resolve the condition in children and adults.
It is possible to die from severe malnutrition and weight loss caused by rumination disorder in infants if left untreated.
People who suffer from this disorder restrict how much food they consume, especially in public. This could result in them losing weight and becoming underweight.
People of all ages can suffer from ruminative disorder. Food recently swallowed by people with the condition is regurgitated. It is then chewed again and either swallowed or spit out.
6. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is the new name for a long-standing illness.
Previously known as a “feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood,” which was reserved for children under 7 years old, “feeding disorder of childhood” has been replaced by the new term.
Though ARFID usually develops during childhood or adolescence, it can also persist into adulthood. Also, it affects both men and women equally.
People with this disorder experience an altered sense of taste, smell, color, texture or temperature, which causes them to be indifferent to food.
Common symptoms of ARFID include:
- Insufficient nutrition as a result of restricting or avoiding food intake
- Socially inconvenient eating habits such as eating in private
- Poor weight or height for age or weight loss
- Deficiencies in nutrients or tubal dependency
An important point to note is that AFID is more than just child picky eating and low food intake in seniors.
Furthermore, it does not include avoiding or restricting foods based on religious or cultural practices, or due to lack of availability.
Undereating is one of the symptoms of ARFID. This may be because people aren’t curious about food or dislike certain foods for how they look, smell or taste.
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Other eating disorders
There are also eating disorders that are less well-known or less common than the ones above. There are generally three types of these:
- Purging disorder: When someone with purging disorder tries to gain or lose weight, they often rely on purging behaviors, such as vomiting, laxatives and diuretics. Their behavior is not binge-like.
- Night eating syndrome: It is common for sufferers of this syndrome to eat excessively, often after they wake up from sleep.
- Another specific feeding or eating disorder (OSFED): Despite not being listed in the DSM-5, this encompasses any other condition that has symptoms similar to those of an eating disorder but doesn’t fall into any of the categories discussed above.
Orthorexia is one of the disorders that may currently fall under OSFED. Orthorexia has been increasingly mentioned in the media and scientific studies, but it is not yet recognized as a distinct eating disorder by the current DSM.
In orthorexia, a person tends to obsessively focus on eating healthy to the point where it disrupts their daily routines.
The affected person may eliminate entire food groups out of fear they are unhealthy. An increased risk of malnutrition, severe weight loss, and emotional distress can result from these events.
Weight loss is rarely the focus of individuals with orthorexia. They judge their self-worth, identity, or satisfaction based on how well they follow their own diet rules.
Currently, night eating syndrome and purging disorder are not as well understood as eating disorders in general. As stated above, orthorexia belongs in the OSFED category since it doesn’t fall under any other category
The bottom line
By analyzing the categories above, you can gain a better understanding of how eating disorders affect people and dispel many myths regarding them.
An eating disorder is a mental health condition that usually requires treatment. Leaving them untreated can also be harmful.
Consider seeking help from a healthcare practitioner who specializes in eating disorders if you have an eating disorder or know someone who might have one.