Eating Disorder Overview & Types

An eating disorder (ED) is a serious mental and physical disorder. They are characterized by distressing eating behaviors and accompanying thoughts and emotions. Eating disorders cause serious harm to a person's mental and physical well-being, but they are treatable.

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder (ED) is a mental health disorder that harms a person’s physical and mental well-being. Eating disorders involve destructive eating behaviors and their accompanying thoughts and emotions. They introduce serious—even fatal—health risks to those who suffer from them.

Eating disorders can be caused by a mix of biological, psychological and cultural factors. They can occur regardless of age, sex, gender, race or class. These disorders can co-occur with other conditions like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and substance abuse.

Eating Disorders and the DSM

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) details multiple eating disorder types including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED). If someone suffering from an eating disorder cannot be classified into those types, they may be diagnosed with Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) or Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder.

Other types of harmful eating behaviors include orthorexia and food addiction. While not covered in the DSM-5, these conditions often lead to severe mental and/or physical distress.

Beating Your Eating Disorder

People who suffer from eating disorders are not to blame. However, they need to seek help immediately as they are serious issues. The first step to combating your eating disorder is to say something. Telling just one person diminishes the power of your eating disorder.

Continue reading to learn more about eating disorders.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia, is primarily characterized by extreme weight loss, difficulty maintaining weight and, in many cases, distorted body image. People with anorexia restrict the amount of calories and/or the types of foods they consume. Anorexia can also be accompanied by compulsive exercising, laxative abuse, purging and/or binge eating.

This disorder affects people of all ages, genders, races and socioeconomic groups. Due to this, a person does not have to appear underweight or emaciated to suffer from anorexia.

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa, or bulimia, involves recurring binge eating episodes (eating large amounts of food within a short time frame) followed by extreme feelings of guilt and shame. These feelings lead to behaviors like self-induced vomiting, calorie restriction, compulsive exercising and/or the abuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics.

Bulimia is often sparked by prolonged periods of dieting. Long restrictions of food can trigger an uncontrollable urge to eat, which may become more compulsive over time.

What is Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

Binge eating disorder (BED) involves eating abnormally large amounts of food in a brief period of time. This is called a “binge”. During a binge, people with BED will feel out of control and unable to resist the urge to eat. It is important to note that these binge episodes may occur even when there are no feelings of hunger.

Like bulimia, those who suffer from BED may feel immense guilt and shame after binging. However, BED does not involve purging. Binge eating disorder is more prevalent and serious than overeating.

What is Orthorexia?

Orthorexia is not officially recognized by the DSM, but like other classified eating disorders it is characterized by dangerous eating behaviors. Those with orthorexia become fixated on “clean” and healthy eating. Under normal conditions, healthy eating is good for the body. However, those with orthorexia are so obsessed with eating healthily that it harms their well-being.

People with orthorexia have uncontrollable fears about not eating healthy or “pure” foods. In turn, they only eat specific foods to a point that negatively affects their physical and mental well-being. Orthorexia often co-occurs with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and may be a form of OCD.

What is Food Addiction?

A food addiction is not a formal eating disorder, but it may have severe physical, mental and emotional side-effects. People generally form an addiction to foods rich in fat, sugar and/or salt. These highly palatable foods trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that leads to feelings of extreme pleasure and satisfaction.

People with a food addiction may overeat even when not hungry, causing physical and mental discomfort. Other consequences include digestive issues, heart disease, depression and more.

Author:Eating Disorder Guide Team
Eating Disorder Guide Team

Eating Disorder Guide is a trusted resource devoted to educating people about eating disorders, their many forms and how to get well.

The site is founded by a team of health-centric content producers who experienced firsthand the terror and pain of an eating disorder, but who took steps to seek recovery.

Last modified: October 9, 2021