What are the most common types of eating disorders?

Understanding eating disorders is crucial for both those who may be experiencing them and their loved ones. These conditions are more than just about food; they’re complex mental health issues that deeply affect a person’s body image, self-esteem, and relationship with food.

Eating disorders can touch anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and their impact on physical and mental health can be profound and enduring. Our aim here is to offer you insights into these conditions, shedding light on their symptoms, causes, and the available treatment options.

What you will learn from this blog can empower you to seek help if you or someone you care about is struggling, ensuring that no one has to face these challenges alone.

Recognizing the signs early on and understanding the importance of professional guidance are key steps toward recovery and regaining control over one’s health and well-being.

What is the most common form of disordered eating?

Eating disorders are complex conditions that manifest through unhealthy eating habits and severe distress about body weight or shape [1]. Let’s highlight the most prevalent eating disorders, aiming to provide crucial insights into their symptoms and impacts.

1. Anorexia nervosa

A severe eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa is typified by a severe fear of gaining weight and a skewed perception of one’s body, which causes severe dietary restriction and weight reduction [2].

People with this condition often see themselves as overweight, even if they are dangerously underweight. They obsess over food, diets, and body weight, and their self-esteem is closely tied to their perception of their body shape and size.

Key signs to watch for include:

  • Dramatic weight loss in a short period
  • Preoccupation with calories, dieting, and controlling food intake
  • Constantly feeling fat, despite being underweight
  • Avoiding meals or only eating small portions
  • Excessive exercise
  • Wearing loose clothes to hide weight loss

Anorexia not only affects the body but also takes a toll on mental health, leading to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and isolation. It’s crucial for those struggling and their loved ones to recognize these signs early.

Getting expert assistance is an essential first step on the road to recovery. Friends and family support can offer the empathy and motivation needed to manage this difficult disease.

What are the most common types of eating disorders?
Photograph: NomadSoul1/Envato

2. Bulimia nervosa

An upsetting eating disorder called bulimia nervosa is characterized by cycles of binge eating and purging to prevent weight gain. Bulimia sufferers feel as though they have no control over their eating during these episodes, which cause them to devour massive volumes of food in short periods of time.

After bingeing, they might induce vomiting, use laxatives, fast, or exercise excessively to counteract the calories consumed. Signs of bulimia include:

  • Frequent visits to the bathroom after meals
  • Signs of vomiting or use of laxatives
  • Swollen cheeks or jaw area
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Preoccupation with body shape and weight

This condition goes beyond physical health, impacting emotional well-being and leading to feelings of shame, guilt, and secrecy. It’s important for those affected to know that help is available and recovery is possible. Opening up about the struggle and seeking professional support can be powerful steps toward healing.

3. Binge eating disorder (BED)

The most prevalent eating disorder in the US is called binge eating disorder (BED), which is typified by periods of binge eating a lot of food and experiencing distress and a loss of control.

Unlike bulimia, these episodes aren’t followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, it may lead to significant weight gain and obesity, though it can occur in people of normal weight as well.

Key signs to look out for include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific period
  • Eating when not hungry and to the point of discomfort
  • Feeling guilty, disgusted, or depressed after overeating
  • Eating by yourself since you’re ashamed of how much food you’ve eaten

BED is not just about food; it’s deeply linked to emotions and often used as a way to cope with stress, depression, or anxiety. Recognizing the need for help is crucial.

Effective treatments, including therapy and sometimes medication, can help manage the disorder, improve self-image, and establish healthier eating patterns.

4. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) 

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is more than just picky eating; it’s a serious condition where individuals avoid certain foods or restrict intake to an extreme degree [3].

This avoidance isn’t due to concerns about weight or body image but may stem from a negative experience with food, a lack of interest in eating, or the sensory characteristics of food, such as texture.

Key points about ARFID include:

  • Significant weight loss or failure to achieve expected weight gain in children
  • Nutritional deficiencies leading to health issues like anemia or low energy
  • Avoidance of social situations involving food
  • Dependence on supplements or selective eating that impacts daily life

ARFID can affect anyone but is most commonly seen in children and adolescents. Recognizing and addressing ARFID early is essential to prevent long-term health complications.

Treatment often involves nutritional counseling and therapy to address the underlying anxiety or sensory issues, aiming to expand the variety of foods one is willing to eat.

5.  Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED)

Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) is a category for eating disorders that don’t fully meet the criteria of disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder but are still serious and impactful.

OSFED can manifest in various ways, affecting individuals’ eating habits and their physical and emotional well-being. Key variations under OSFED include:

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa, where significant weight loss is present without the individual being underweight
  • Bulimia nervosa (of low frequency and/or limited duration), involving less frequent binge-purge cycles
  • Binge eating disorder (of low frequency and/or limited duration), with less frequent episodes of binge eating
  • Purging disorder, where purging occurs without binge eating
  • Night eating syndrome, involving recurrent episodes of night eating

OSFED is as significant as other eating disorders and requires professional treatment to address the complex physical and emotional issues involved. Recognizing the signs and seeking help early can lead to effective management and recovery, helping individuals lead healthier lives.

What are the most common types of eating disorders?

Which of the following might be useful in preventing the development of eating disorders?

Raising awareness and prevention of eating disorders are crucial steps toward a healthier society [4]. Their impact on mental and physical health can be devastating. Fortunately, we can make a significant difference through education, support, and proactive measures.

Education

Education plays a pivotal role in preventing eating disorders. Understanding the signs and symptoms allows for early intervention, which can significantly alter the course of these conditions.

It’s crucial for everyone, from parents to teachers and healthcare professionals, to recognize these early indicators. Equally important is educating on the value of healthy body image and eating habits. This means challenging societal norms and media portrayals that contribute to body dissatisfaction.

When we equip people with knowledge about the risks, symptoms, and consequences of eating disorders, alongside the tools for promoting body positivity and healthy eating, we lay the groundwork for a more informed and resilient society.

Building self-esteem and resilience 

Building self-esteem and resilience go hand in hand with developing a positive relationship with food. Here’s how:

  • Celebrate food as a source of energy and joy, not just as a dietary requirement.
  • Encourage cooking and meal planning as skills that boost confidence and independence.
  • Highlight the connection between balanced nutrition and feeling good physically and mentally.
  • Teach that eating well is a form of self-respect, not just a route to a certain body shape.

These steps help individuals see food as a friend rather than a foe, fostering a sense of achievement and self-worth. By linking healthy eating with positive self-image and resilience, we empower people to make choices that benefit their bodies and minds.

Encouraging open conversations

Creating spaces where people feel comfortable discussing their eating habits and body image is vital. Open conversations can lead to early detection of eating disorders and provide much-needed support.

Families, schools, and workplaces should foster environments where talking about health, nutrition, and self-esteem is encouraged without focusing on weight. 

Such dialogue helps to break down the stigma associated with eating disorders, making it easier for those struggling to seek help. Encourage sharing feelings and experiences about food and body image, and listen without judgment. This approach promotes understanding and can be a powerful tool in supporting someone’s journey to recovery.

Promoting healthy relationships with food

Promoting a healthy relationship with food is essential for well-being. It’s about:

  • Encouraging mindful eating, focusing on hunger and fullness cues rather than emotional eating.
  • Teaching the value of nutrition and its role in overall health, steering clear of restrictive dieting.
  • Demonstrating a balanced approach to eating that includes a variety of foods, avoiding labels like “good” or “bad.”

This approach helps individuals appreciate food as nourishment for the body and enjoyment rather than as a source of anxiety [5]. Modeling positive eating behaviors and discussing the benefits of different foods can inspire a lifelong healthy relationship with food, contributing to better physical and mental health.

In closing

As we’ve explored the importance of education, open conversations, promoting healthy relationships with food, and building self-esteem and resilience, it’s clear that preventing eating disorders is a collective effort. It involves not just individuals but families, schools, healthcare providers, and communities working together to foster environments that support healthy body image and eating habits.

Remember, it’s about creating a supportive network that values health and well-being over appearance, recognizing the unique journey of each individual. By taking these steps, we can contribute to a culture that nurtures rather than harms, leading to happier, healthier lives for everyone.

FAQs

What are the first signs of an eating disorder?

The first signs can include drastic changes in eating habits, excessive focus on weight, and avoidance of meals or social situations involving food. You might also notice emotional distress related to eating or body image.

Who are eating disorders most commonly found among?

Eating disorders are most commonly found among adolescents and young adults, but they can affect individuals of any age, gender, or background.

How to help someone with eating disorder?

The best way to help is by expressing your concerns in a non-judgmental way and encouraging them to seek professional help. Offer your support and listen to them without making assumptions or giving unsolicited advice.

What is the recovery rate for eating disorder?

The recovery rate for eating disorders varies, with studies suggesting that with treatment, about 60% of individuals show improvement and can recover fully over time.

[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eating-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20353603
[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/symptoms-causes/syc-20353591
[3] https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/what-is-arfid
[4] https://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/prevention/prevention-resources/
[5] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindful-eating/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.