Harper Jefcoat
Harper Jefcoat

Eating Disorders: Overview, Symptoms & Treatment

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10 min read

Eating disorders

On This Page

  • Eating Disorders Overview
  • Types of Eating Disorders
  • Causes of Eating Disorders
  • Eating Disorders Risk Factors
  • Eating Disorders Diagnosis
  • Eating Disorders Treatment
  • Eating Disorders Complications
  • ESAs and Their Role in Treating Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that can affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. People with this disorder show disturbed eating behavior as a way to deal with difficult situations or feelings.

This behavior involves eating a limited amount of food or eating a large quantity of food at once. It also involves eating food through unhealthy means.

It is important to know that eating disorders are not all about food but about feelings. The way a person treats food may make them feel more relaxed or in control. Although they might not be aware of the purpose of behaving this way. Any person with an eating disorder should be provided with compassionate support to help them get better.

You can read more about eating disorders in this blog. Here you find out the main causes, risk factors, and how eating disorders can be treated.

Eating Disorders Overview

An eating disorder is a mental illness that can be characterized by irregular eating habits. It can eventually affect the overall shape of the body and weight.

Eating disorders include an inadequate or excessive amount of food intake which can eventually damage the person’s health. There are different forms of eating disorders that affect both men and women.

Issues related to an eating disorder can develop at any stage in life. Typically the signs and symptoms of the eating disorder appear in teenage or young adulthood. It is classified as a medical illness and effective treatment is required for the specific types of eating disorders.

Although these conditions are treatable, they can be deadly if not diagnosed and treated on time. Different types of eating disorders commonly coexist with other mental disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse.

Types of Eating Disorders

Below you can find the major types of eating disorders and their common symptoms.

  • Anorexia nervosa

    Anorexia nervosa is the most common eating disorder. It usually develops during young adulthood and is more common in women than men.

    It is characterized by thoughts of being overweight even if the person with Anorexia nervosa is underweight. They think about their weight and shape all the time and avoid eating certain types of food to restrict their calories.

    People with Anorexia nervosa constantly monitor their body weight and shape which can significantly interfere with their overall health. Efforts to reduce weight when you are underweight can cause severe health issues and sometimes to the point of self-starvation.

    The common Anorexia nervosa symptoms include:

    • Being underweight compared to people of similar age and height.
    • Restricted eating patterns.
    • Distorted body image.
    • Feel out of control with their eating habits.
    • The constant fear of gaining weight.
    • Craziness to become thin and not pursuing a healthy lifestyle.
    • Low self-esteem because of no proper body shape.
    • Constantly denial of being underweight.

    Anorexia nervosa is further categorized into two subtypes.

    1. Restricting type
    2. Binge eating and purging type

    In restricting type, people lose weight gradually through dieting, fasting, and exercise. People with binge eating disorder and purging type may eat very little or binge on a heavy quantity of food. In any case, when they are done eating, they purge through vomiting, taking laxatives, or exercising.

  • Bulimia nervosa

    Another well-known eating disorder, Bulimia usually develops during early adulthood and is also more common in women than men. People with this type of eating disorder usually eat large amounts of food during specific times. They cannot stop or feel a lack of control when they are eating.

    Binges can usually happen with the type of food that a person normally avoids. The common purging behaviors include vomiting, laxatives, enemas, and exercise.

    People with Bulimia nervosa usually maintain a normal weight rather than being underweight. The most common Bulimia nervosa symptoms are:

    • Episodes of binge eating with no self-control.
    • Various episodes of inappropriate purging behavior to prevent weight gain.
    • Low self-esteem because of no proper body shape.
    • The constant fear of gaining weight despite having a normal weight.

    Swollen salivary glands, sore throat, worn tooth enamel, tooth decay, dehydration, and hormonal disturbances are the side effects of Bulimia. Severe cases of Bulimia can cause a stroke or heart attack.

  • Pica

    Pica is also a common eating disorder. It involves eating things that are considered as food or food that is not good for your health.

    Individuals with Pica often crave substances such as ice, soil, dirt, soap, chalk, hair, paper, cloth, pebbles, or cornstarch.

    Pica is usually observed in children but it also occurs in adults. This disorder is frequently observed in children, pregnant women, and individuals with any mental condition.

    People with Pica are at a higher risk of infections, gut injuries, poisoning, and nutritional deficiencies. Pica can be fatal depending upon the substances ingested.

  • Rumination disorder

    Rumination disorder is a new entry in eating disorders. In this condition, a person brings up the food again to the mouth that has previously swallowed. They spit it out or rechew or swallow the food. This usually occurs within 30 minutes after the meal.

    This condition is observed in infants, young children, and adults. In infants, it usually develops between the age of 3-12 months and often diminishes with time. But children and adults usually require treatment to resolve it.

  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

    ARFID is the new term used for an old eating disorder known as ‘Feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood’. This condition was previously reserved for children under 7 years.

    Although Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder usually develops in infants and children and can also affect adults. This condition affects both men and women.

    Individuals with this condition may experience disturbed eating patterns due to a lack of interest in eating. It may also because of not liking certain tastes, smells, colors, or textures.

    The following are the most common symptoms of Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

    • Less intake of food prevents the person from eating sufficient calories.
    • Eating patterns that interfere with a normal social function such as eating with friends or colleagues.
    • Weight loss or poor development of height.
    • Heavy dependence on supplements to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

    The ARFID can go beyond this normal behavior such as picky eating in children and lower food intake in adults.

  • Night eating syndrome

    People with this syndrome often eat in excessive amounts when they wake up.

  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)

    This includes any condition that has symptoms similar to any type of eating disorder but doesn't fit any specific category. ‘Orthorexia’ currently falls into the category of OSFED but it needs to be recognized as a separate disorder by the DSM.

    Individuals with Orthorexia are obsessed with healthy eating to an extent that affects their normal lives.

Causes of Eating Disorders

Experts say that there are many reasons for eating disorders. Though the exact cause of eating disorders is still not known. It is believed that a combination of biological, environmental, and psychological factors contribute to the symptoms of eating disorders.

Biological factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Psychological factors include:

  • Negative body image
  • Low self-esteem

Environmental factors include:

  • Careers that promote being thin such as modeling
  • Sports that emphasize maintaining a lean body such as wrestling, diving, gymnastics
  • Traumatic events
  • Peer pressure
  • Stressful transitions in life

Signs & Symptoms of Eating Disorder

The common signs and symptoms of eating disorders regardless of any type include:

  • Excessive exercising and dieting regardless of being underweight.
  • Constant weight change.
  • Obsession of a perfect body and weight.
  • Unhealthy eating patterns such as eating alone or cutting food into tiny pieces.
  • Avoidance of social functions in which they might have to eat with others.
  • Switching between overeating and fasting from time to time.

Eating Disorders Risk Factors

Anyone is at risk of developing eating disorders but they are more common in women than men. Eating disorders more often appear in the teenage but can also develop later in life.

Teenage girls and women are more likely to develop eating disorders than teenage boys and men. Although eating disorders can affect people of any age, they often develop in the teenage years.

However, there are certain factors that can increase the risk of eating disorders. These includes:

  • Family history

    You are more likely to develop an eating disorder if you have a family member who had this condition.

  • Dieting & Starvation

    Dieting is the major factor for developing eating disorders. Excessive dieting can affect the brain and affects moods and reduces appetite. Experts say that starvation changes the way the brain works which may lead to irregular eating patterns. It eventually makes it difficult to return to normal eating habits.

  • Stress

    Stress whether due to tough college life, work pressure, or family conflicts can change the eating patterns. It can eventually increase the risks of developing eating disorders.

  • Other mental health disorders

    There are many mental illnesses that can contribute to eating disorders. Individuals with eating disorders often have a history of other mental illnesses such as depressionanxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Eating Disorders Diagnosis

People with an eating disorder can easily recover if they get an early diagnosis. The doctor will usually perform a physical examination, conduct an interview, and ask for lab tests. These will help the doctor to make the correct diagnosis and offer the needed help.

In addition, a doctor may ask you to consult with a mental health professional for a psychological evaluation. You may need to provide answers about your eating behaviors. You may also be asked about your dieting, exercise, bingeing and purging.

To be diagnosed with an eating disorder, the symptoms must meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Each type of eating disorder has a specific type of diagnostic criteria that the mental health professional will use. It is not necessary to have all the criteria to work with the mental health professional for treating eating issues.

Often an individual with an eating disorder has symptoms of another mental disorder that requires treatment. So, it is important to identify and address all the conditions. In this way, a person will get comprehensive treatment to ensure a lasting recovery.

Eating Disorders Treatment

Eating disorders clearly indicate a link between emotional and physical health. Because of the severity of this condition, treatment is often important to fully recover.

Treatments plans are created and utilized in a way to address any concerns that people with eating disorders are facing. Treatment of an eating disorder usually comprises one or more of the following methods.

  • Medical care & Monitoring
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Therapy
  • Medications

Varying treatments, ranging from outpatient group therapies to inpatient treatment centers are available. So, identifying and addressing the eating disorder is crucial to get the proper treatment.

Eating Disorders Complications

Eating disorders can cause various complications and some of them might be life-threatening. The more severe the eating disorder, the more likely you experience serious complications.

The complications include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Social problems
  • Substance use
  • Work issues
  • Serious health problems

Eating Disorders Prevention

Here are some of the methods that you can apply to prevent your child from not developing an eating disorder.

  • Adjust your dining habits and avoid dieting or excessive exercising in front of your children.
  • Talk to your child about how important it is to eat healthy food. Discuss what are the risks of eating unhealthy or not eating enough.
  • Reinforce that a body image can vary. Help them in building self-esteem that will carry your child through difficult periods of time.

If you see any member of your family showing signs of eating disorders, talk to that person. Talk about your concern for his/her wellbeing. This might help the person seek proper medical treatment.

ESAs and Their Role in Treating Eating Disorders

Do you know that in order to recover from an eating disorder, a mental health professional recommends using emotional support animals?

Health professionals believe that each person with an eating disorder needs a specific treatment plan. In most cases, the plan has various methods to help and treat the individual in an effective way.

One method is the use of emotional support animals in order to provide encouragement for people to overcome an eating disorder.

Emotional support animals are different from regular pets. They serve a purpose and create a strong bond with their owners. The use of an ESA is one of the main parts of treating any type of mental health condition.

If your mental health provider feels like an ESA could benefit you, they might write a specific letter. This letter is called an emotional support animal letter which shows that the animal is part of your treatment plan.

You can also contact RealESALetter.com to see if you can qualify for an ESA.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of eaters?

FAQ Icon

The following are the different types of eaters. Have a look and see which one are you.

  • Emotional Eater - a person who tends to eat when they are happy.
  • Unconscious Eater - a person who eats without even realizing it.
  • Habitual Eater - a person who eats the same food daily.
  • Critical Eater - a person who is an obsessive eater.
  • Sensual Eater - a person who enjoys and loves to try new food.

How can you avoid eating disorders?

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There are different ways that you can follow to avoid eating disorders. These includes:

  • Stop thinking about an ideal weight or body size.
  • Learn about different types of eating disorders and how these can affect your health.
  • Get rid of ideas that a thin and lean body will make you look great.
  • Stop judging your body based on other people’s bodies and weight.

Why do I suddenly not want to eat?

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Hunger is the signal that your body needs food in order to function. Your brain and gut feeling work together to give you these signals. But if you don’t feel like eating, there may be a number of factors that can cause loss of appetite. These factors include:

  • Emotional health
  • Certain medications
  • Other health issues

Does stress cause loss of appetite?

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Stress and anxiety can be the reason for emotional and psychological changes in your body. These changes also affect the normal digestive system and make you lose your appetite. If you are not feeling hungry because of stress, you might feel hungry again when that stress phase is gone.

What is it called when you don't like eating?

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Anorexia. It is also a serious mental illness that usually occurs in young girls. But it can also occur in young boys, men, and women. Individuals with Anorexia are obsessed to have a slim and lean body and to achieve that they usually avoid eating.

Harper Jefcoat


Harper Jefcoat

Harper Jefcoat is a dedicated pet enthusiast and esteemed author at RealESALetter.com. With a profound passion for animals, Harper combines extensive knowledge and personal experience to provide insightful and informative content. Specializing in canine behavior and wellness, he strives to empower pet owners with the tools and understanding they need to nurture and care for their furry friends effectively. Harper’s writings reflect his commitment to enhancing the lives of pets and their owners, making him a trusted voice in the pet community.

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