There are many different eating disorders, but they all pose serious physical and mental health risks. Each type has a diverse set of accompanying behaviors and traits. However, there are signs and symptoms that may reveal if you or a loved one is battling an eating disorder. Learn more about eating disorder types.
Types of Eating Disorders
Anorexia nervosa, commonly called anorexia, is a disorder characterized by the restriction of calories—and often the types of food—a person consumes. Anorexia impacts your physical and mental health. Health risks include sleep problems, constantly feeling cold, muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat.
More About Anorexia
Bulimia nervosa, or bulimia, involves cycles of binge eating and corrective actions. People battling bulimia experience binge eating episodes followed by behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, caloric restriction or excessive exercise.These behaviors are an attempt to compensate for their overeating.
More About Bulimia
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. It is characterized by episodes of extreme overeating, typically to the point of discomfort. People struggling with binge eating disorder feel a lack of control during binging episodes. Their overeating is often accompanied by guilt, shame and embarrassment.
More About Binge Eating Disorder
Orthorexia involves an obsessive fixation on “healthful” eating. Under normal circumstances, eating healthily is beneficial. People struggling with orthorexia, however, become so fixated on eating foods they deem “healthy” or “pure” that it impairs their daily lives. This disorder is not classified by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
More About Orthorexia
Food addiction is typically characterized by overeating highly palatable foods, including extremely salty, sugary or fatty foods. These foods trigger a reaction in the brain so that the person feels pleasure and satisfaction when eating them. Consequences of food addiction include digestive issues, heart disease, depression and more. While not classified by the DSM-5, food addiction is still a serious issue in today’s society.
More About Food Addiction
Eating Disorder Treatment Options
Treating eating disorders generally involves both psychological therapy and nutritional counseling. Treatment of physical symptoms is best supplemented by psychological therapy to combat thoughts and cultural forces that contribute to the eating disorder. Nutritional counseling helps instill healthy eating habits. Discover available treatment options.
Inpatient treatment involves round-the-clock care in a hospital setting. It is typically recommended for people who are mentally or physically unstable. Inpatient treatment facilities are designed to stabilize a person’s vital signs and address immediate health risks.
During outpatient treatment, a person attends weekly medical and psychiatric appointments while living at home. Those who choose outpatient care may see a primary care physician, therapist, nutritionist and other professionals. This type of treatment is best for those who are medically and mentally stable.
Residential programs involve highly structured live-in facilities that bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient care. Those best suited for residential treatment do not require extreme medical intervention. However, they do need a level of psychiatric care greater than that of outpatient treatment.
When treating an eating disorder, addressing the immediate physical symptoms is most important. Therapy is a key part of lasting recovery after a person is physically stable. Therapy is important in helping those struggling with eating disorders understand the root of their disorder and adopt new healthy habits. Different types of therapy exist to give people many options as they recover.
Nutritional counseling is typically conducted by a nutritionist or a registered dietician (RD). These professionals create custom meal plans for those battling eating disorders to fit their needs. The purpose of nutritional counseling is to instill healthy eating habits and improve the person’s relationship with food.
Special Groups Affected by Eating Disorders
It is a common misconception that only underweight women can develop eating disorders. The truth is that eating disorders know no race, age, gender, size or class. Certain groups are underrepresented and do not get the help and support they deserve. Find resources for special groups affected by eating disorders.
Support for Loved Ones
It is normal to feel confused or helpless if your loved one is battling or recovering from an eating disorder. When someone is suffering, it is natural for you to experience distress as well. Discover ways to support your child, sibling, partner, friend or co-worker while keeping your own health intact.
Watching a spouse or significant other struggle with an eating disorder can be painful. It can be tempting to manage their behaviors and monitor their eating. Partners must understand that it is not their job to “save” their spouse or significant other. Partners can provide support by listening and showing empathy.
Support for Partners
Parents have a unique role in supporting a child struggling with an eating disorder. Parents must often practice “tough love” when encouraging their child to seek treatment, especially if the child’s physical health is at stake. Numerous resources and groups exist to guide parents as they support a child battling an eating disorder.
Support for Parents
If your sibling is struggling with an eating disorder, it is not unusual to feel confused or that you do not understand them. Siblings may also feel left out as their family focuses more effort and attention to support the child with the eating disorder. It is important for siblings to understand that their feelings of neglect are valid too. Siblings should reach out to trusted adults when they need support.
Support for Siblings
If you fear that a friend is battling an eating disorder, you may feel pressure to help them. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, so your friend may not be ready to confide in you about their disorder. You can support your friend who may have an eating disorder by asking a trusted adult for advice and extending a listening ear.
Support for Friends
It is not uncommon for an eating disorder to impact a person’s performance, attitude or behaviors at work. If you suspect a co-worker or employee has an eating disorder and are concerned for their health, it can be useful to set up a meeting with your organization’s human resources (HR) department.
Support for Co-Workers
You are not alone. Speak up and get help today.
The first step toward recovery is saying something. Take the leap and talk to a trusted friend or mentor about your eating disorder. You are worthy of support.
You have the power to beat your eating disorder.
"It's a common misconception that eating disorders are just about food. But they're actually about so much more than that. Eating disorders often stem from feelings of low self esteem, depression, anxiety or, in my case, being teased and ridiculed for my weight."