Eating Disorders

Common Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, sometimes abbreviated as "ED," are defined as unhealthy relationships with food that cause severe physical symptoms that threaten the patient's short-term and long-term health. While certain eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, are more common in women than in men, they affect people of both sexes and all ages. Though researchers are not exactly sure why, there has been an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders in the United States and other developed countries over the past 30 to 40 years.

Effective management depends on an accurate diagnosis. However, it is fairly common for people with eating disorders to deny the existence of a problem, which can make getting help more difficult. Outside intervention may be necessary to convince a loved one with an eating disorder to get help.

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are classified and diagnosed according to the nature of the relationship between the patient and food. These relationships show significant variation among the various common types of eating disorders. Here's a look at the six most commonly diagnosed types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa. This disorder is far more common in women than in men, and is characterized by extreme restrictions on food consumption and caloric intake. It is typically accompanied by an overpowering fear of weight gain, a distorted body image, and emotional disturbances. Additional symptoms include a lack of energy, fatigue and drowsiness, recurrent headaches, and dizziness due to sustained low blood sugar. Anorexics may also engage in exhaustive, intense exercise regimens as a means of avoiding weight gain, despite not taking in adequate nutrition to support their activities.
  • Bulimia. Another common eating disorder, bulimia is also more common in women than men and is defined as a cyclic progression of binge eating, in which the patient consumes large quantities of food, and purging, in which the patient expels the food from their body before it can be digested. Purging phases can include induced vomiting as well as the abuse of laxatives.
  • Binge eating. This eating disorder is diagnosed in patients who regularly engage in episodes of uncontrolled eating, especially in spite of a lack of hunger. It is strongly correlated with overweightness and obesity, which are believed to play major roles in the exacerbation of the condition. Many people with binge eating grapple with feelings of shame about their weight, but continue to engage in harmful binge eating episodes which directly contribute to continued weight gain.
  • Diabulimia. This is a subtype of bulimia, seen in patients who also have Type 1 diabetes. People with diabulimia deliberately give themselves less insulin than they require in order to trigger weight loss. While it is a dangerous practice that can have severe and even life-threatening consequences, diabulimia has not yet been formally recognized as a specific disorder.
  • Orthorexia nervosa. Patients with orthorexia do not avoid eating to the same extreme as anorexic patients, but they do display an unusual and obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with avoiding foods that they perceive to contribute to weight gain. Like anorexia, people with orthorexia also tend to have dangerously low body weights and extremely low percentages of body fat.
  • Pregorexia. This condition affects only pregnant women, and is defined as a cycle of unhealthy eating habits and obsessive exercise aimed at avoiding prenatal weight gain. It can endanger the health of the unborn baby, as expectant mothers need to take in adequate nutrients to support the proper development of the fetus.

Eating disorders affect millions of people worldwide, and can have very dangerous long-term effects. If you or someone you care about exhibits symptoms and needs eating disorder treatment, it is important to seek professional help to restore health and vitality, both mentally and physically.