An eating disorder can affect almost anyone, regardless of being underweight or overweight. Eating disorder is a term that covers a range of conditions involving abnormal or disrupted eating.
The exact cause of eating disorders remains unclear. However, experts believe that sociocultural, biological, and psychological factors all play a role in their development.
Below, we provide information on some of the most common eating disorders, including their typical signs and symptoms.
Individuals with bulimia tend to devour large quantities of food, which people often call “binge eating” or a “binge.”
After binge eating, a person with bulimia typically takes steps to purge their body of the extra weight. Standard purging methods include:
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- Self-induced vomiting
- Taking diuretics
- Taking laxatives
- Not everyone with bulimia will use these methods of purging. Some people try to counter high-calorie intake by fasting or doing excessive amounts of exercise.
Signs and symptoms of an eating disorder
The characteristics of bulimia include the following thoughts, feelings, and behaviors:
- An obsession with body weight and size
- Repeat binging episodes that accompany a sense of loss of control
- Purging episodes to prevent weight gain
- General fear of gaining weight Some people with bulimia lose weight, but others maintain their body weight. In either case, a person may develop the following side effects:
- a sore or inflamed throat
- tooth decay
- Severe Dehydration
- electrolyte imbalances
Anorexia is one of the more well-known eating disorders.
There are two recognized subtypes of anorexia:
Binge eating and purging type: A person with anorexia typically purges after eating. They may sometimes eat large amounts of food. Alternatively, the person might engage in excessive exercise to burn off the calories that they have consumed.
Restricting type: People with this type of anorexia do not eat. Instead, they turn to diet, fasting, or overexercising to lose weight.
Signs and symptoms
Typical signs and symptoms of anorexia include:
•Very restricted eating habits.
• being underweight compared with others of a similar height and age.
• A fear of gaining weight, even when already underweight.
• An obsession with being thinner.
• A distorted view of the body.
• Basing self-esteem on body weight or shape.
• The avoidance of eating in public or with others.
Obsessive-compulsive tendencies, in some people, are Similar to bulimia or the binge eating type of anorexia; people with this type of eating disorder typically consume a large amount of food very quickly.
However, they do not restrict their calorie intake at other times or purge the excess food they consume.
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Signs and symptoms
A person may have a binge eating disorder if they:
• feel a lack of control when eating
• feel shame or disgust when thinking about their binge eating
• consume food in private
Rumination disorder is when a person regurgitates partially digested food and chews it again before either swallowing it or spitting it out.
Unlike self-induced purging, rumination is an involuntary reaction. The first episode typically begins due to illness, physical injury, or psychological distress. Under these conditions, food regurgitation may provide the person with some relief.
After the physical illness or injury has passed, the person’s body may continue to regurgitate food due to discomfort.
Rumination disorder can start as early as infancy. Infants who develop rumination often get better without treatment. However, persistent rumination can lead to potentially fatal malnourishment.
Rumination in older children and adults typically requires psychological treatment.
Signs and symptoms
A person with this disorder may experience the following symptoms shortly before regurgitating food:
- A need to burp
- a feeling of pressure or discomfort
- Other symptoms of rumination may include:
- abdominal pain
- electrolyte imbalance
- sleeping difficulties
- weight loss
People with pica crave and consume nonfood items. Examples of such things include:
- laundry detergent
Pica can start in childhood or adulthood. The disorder occurs most frequently in the following people:
- pregnant women
- children who are deficient in iron and zinc
- people with intellectual disabilities
- Pica can cause severe and potentially life-threatening complications. Examples include:
- stomach irritation
- injury to the digestive tract
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), which people previously called selective eating disorder, is similar to anorexia in that it involves restricting calorie consumption.
however, a person with ARFID does not obsess about their body size or weight gain. The condition can occur due to a lack of interest in eating, or a person may avoid eating because of the sensory characteristics of food.
ARFID can occur at any age. It may be more difficult to detect in children, who are often fussy eaters. However, a child with ARFID may have delayed growth and development.
An adult with ARFID may experience weight loss and malnourishment. In some cases, people do not consume enough calories and nutrients to support their essential body functions.
Signs and symptoms
Some signs and symptoms of ARFID include:
• significant weight loss
• stunted growth (in children)
• severe nutrient deficiencies
• a dependence on oral nutritional supplements
• considerable interference with social functioning
Some eating disorders that scientific literature reports on are less common or do not have formal recognition.
• Orthorexia: the primary characteristic of this eating disturbance is an obsession with eating healthful foods. Healthcare professionals do not recognize it as an official condition.
• Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED): a person with OSFED has some of the signs and symptoms of bulimia or anorexia but does not meet the diagnostic criteria for either condition.
Unspecified feeding or eating disorder (UFED): a condition in which a person does not meet the criteria for any particular eating disorder but presents with similar symptoms and psychological distress.
Laxative abuse: though not technically an eating disorder, laxative abuse involves the excessive use of laxatives to lose weight and become thinner.
Excessive exercise: people may do excessive exercise to burn calories and achieve unhealthy weight loss.
People should seek treatment for eating disorders as soon as possible. Eating disorders increase the risk of both physical health complications and psychological disorders
The type of eating disorder that a person has will determine the treatment. In general, people usually receive one or more of the following treatments:
• nutritional counseling
• medical care and monitoring
If a person suspects that a loved one has an eating disorder, they should encourage them to speak to their doctor.
A doctor may refer the person for psychotherapy or psychiatric treatment. They may also make a referral for care at a specialist center for eating disorders.
Eating disorders are common among people living in the U.S. Familiarity with the symptoms can help people recognize the conditions in themselves and others.
Ideally, eating disorders require early treatment to prevent health complications and additional psychological issues.
People who suspect that they have an eating disorder should see their doctor, who will be able to direct them to the appropriate healthcare services. In many cases, the proper treatment can help people make a full recovery.
There are several different eating disorder treatments and other health professionals you can talk to about them. Learning more about the various options for treatment and the health professionals involved is an essential step in recovery.
Types of treatment
When looking at treatment options for an eating disorder, it’s essential to know that people may respond differently to different types of treatment, even if they are experiencing the same condition.
Also, some treatments are better suited to specific eating disorders than others. In general, a combination of approaches is often the best form of treatment. Some of the leading eating disorder treatment types are discussed below.
There are various types of psychotherapy treatments for eating disorders, but they focus on a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, patterns of thinking, motivations, and personal relationships.
The most common treatment model is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to adjust unhelpful thinking and behavior patterns. Psychotherapy will usually be administered by a psychologist; however, psychiatrists, counselors, and social workers may use aspects of it in their treatments.
Family approaches are most common for adolescents, young adults, and children suffering from an eating disorder. This type of treatment involves the whole family as a support network for the person with the disease.
The aim is to treat the person while at the same time offering support and information to family members on how to provide appropriate care.
The most commonly used type of family therapy is the Maudsley approach, in which parents play a central and positive role in supporting their child to recovery.
Self-help means an approach whereby a person with an eating disorder works through a treatment program by themselves. Self-help strategies for eating disorders can be useful when used alongside professional treatment but are generally not very effective.
Nutritional management is usually provided by a dietitian and focuses on creating normal eating patterns. It aims to address fears about food and weight and offer support, nutritional advice, eating plans, and motivation.
Medications are often very effective when someone with an eating disorder has additional mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. These disorders commonly co-occur.
Medications are often prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist or a general practitioner and are most effective when used with other treatment approaches.
Types of health professionals
Due to the complex physical and mental nature of eating disorders, treatment often includes a range of qualified practitioners. Some of the people who may be involved in treating an eating disorder include:
- Your GP (general practitioner) – is often your first professional contact
- Remember that while these people are often involved in treating eating disorders, it doesn’t mean you will have all of them playing a role in your treatment.
Types of treatment settings
There are four main ways of receiving treatment for an eating disorder, depending on the stage of illness. Some treatments are more intensive than others, but all involve some interaction with health professionals.
Inpatient treatment clinics provide 24-hour care and are usually located in hospitals and private treatment centers. They are designed primarily for medically ill people experiencing severe symptoms.
Inpatient treatment aims to achieve medical stabilization, weight restoration, and proper nourishment.
Often people with an eating disorder don’t need 24-hour care but require targeted treatment from health practitioners. Outpatient services normally involve input from health professionals, including many of those listed above, but don’t require a person to stay in a hospital.
Day program treatment involves a range of treatment sessions over an entire day or several days per week. It often includes structured eating sessions and active treatment interventions while the patient lives at home.
A day program may be a way for someone to transition from an inpatient stay to outpatient care.
Several community-based support programs operate in local areas and provide support and information for people with eating disorders.
These organizations are often a great place to access referrals for treatment, support groups, counseling services, and fact sheets on different issues relating to eating disorder prevention and early intervention.