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different eating disorder types

Understanding the Different Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are some of the most severe but treatable conditions. These mental and physical illnesses affect people of all ages, races, body shapes, and weights. Estimates believe that around 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States alone will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Although the cause attributed to the different types of eating disorders is unknown, there’s a lot we can learn from what we do know.

What Are Eating Disorders?

An eating disorder is a range of psychological conditions that lead to unhealthy eating habits. The different eating disorders can be related to food, body shape, weight, or weight. When left untreated, eating disorders can lead to life-threatening health consequences. 

Many individuals are unaware they have an eating disorder. This is due in part to denial and because eating disorders are often easier to spot from outside. The suffering individual has a distorted body image. Or they might be unaware of their unhealthy eating behavior. 

Experts believe that a combination of genetics and personality traits is the main trigger for eating disorders. Other potential causes include cultural preferences for unrealistic bodies. In fact, certain eating disorders appear to be primarily nonexistent in cultures that haven’t been exposed to Western ideals of thinness. 

Some experts believe that differences in brain structure and biology might also play a role in developing the different types of eating disorders. In particular, levels of serotonin and dopamine might be factors. However, more research is still needed to make a firm conclusion. 

Anorexia Nervosa

At any given point, about 0.4% of women will struggle with anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is restricting food based on an irrational fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. This leads to extreme weight loss, typically among adolescent females between thirteen and seventeen years old. 

People with anorexia also struggle with obsessive-compulsive symptoms, often having preoccupied thoughts about food, exercise, or fasting. Someone with anorexia might hoard food, collect recipes, or purge after eating what they consider too much. 

It’s important to know that someone with anorexia can still have a “healthy” weight, yet they’re still exhibiting other symptoms of this disorder.

Common Signs of Anorexia

Anorexia has two different subtypes — one that restricts the food they eat and the binge eating and purging type that might eat healthy amounts of foods but will purge afterward. 

  • Considerably underweight in comparison with people of similar weight, height, and body composition.
  • Extremely restricted and organized eating patterns. 
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviors to avoid gaining weight, despite being underweight. 
  • Engage in a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight. 
  • A heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem. 
  • Distorted body image, including the denial of being seriously underweight. 


One of the most common eating disorders, affecting almost 1% of young women at any given point. People with bulimia nervosa eat enormous amounts of food in a brief period of time, usually until they’re painfully full. It’s common for those with bulimia to engage in purging behaviors to relieve discomfort. Typical actions include forced vomiting, fasting, and the use of diuretics, laxatives, and excessive exercise. 

Symptoms of bulimia are very similar to those with binge eating disorders and anorexia. However, those with bulimia are usually able to maintain a healthy weight. In extreme cases, they can struggle with sodium, calcium, and potassium imbalances, leading to a heart attack. 

Symptoms of Bulimia

The individual suffering from bulimia usually has a rigorous diet and an unhealthy obsession with food. They’ll usually starve themselves, finally eat, and promptly vomit.

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating paired with a feeling of lack of control.
  • Episodes of purging behaviors or induced vomiting in an attempt to prevent weight gain. 
  • Distorted body image and self-esteem are overly influenced by weight or body shape. 
  • Irrational fear of gaining weight, despite having an average weight. 
  • Excessive use of laxatives or diuretics to lose weight.

Binge Eating Disorder

One of the most common eating disorders, particularly in the US. It often starts in adolescence and early childhood, but it can also develop later on. Those with a binge eating disorder have symptoms similar to bulimia. They’ll often eat enormous amounts of foods in short periods and feel a lack of control during these binge episodes. 

However, binge eating disorders don’t count calories to use purging behaviors to compensate for their binges. Those with binge eating disorders are usually overweight or obese, which increases their risk of health complications. 

Common Signs of Binge Eating Disorders

Binge eaters often eat when not hungry and continue for extended amounts of time. Those suffering want to stop but feel unable to control their intake of food. The comfort of binge eating lasts for a short time, followed by regret, self-pity, and depression.

  • Eating large amounts of food uncontrollably is usually in secret until they’re uncomfortably full, even when not feeling hungry.
  • Feeling a lack of control during eating episodes. 
  • Constant feelings of distress, shame, or guilt when thinking about their eating patterns. 

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

ARFID is a new name for an old eating disorder previously known as “feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood,” a diagnosis reserved for children under seven years old. However, later on, researchers found that this disorder can persist into adulthood, and unlike other conditions, it was equally common among men and women.  

Those with ARFID struggle with disturbed eating due to a lack of interest in eating or distaste for specific smells, tastes, textures, or temperatures. They develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors during eating, like picky eating or lowering food intake. 

Symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

ARFID usually causes people to undereat. It’s important to note that their behaviors are not due to a lack of food availability or cultural practices. They have an uncontrollable interest in certain foods. 

  • Avoidance or restriction of food intake that prevents someone from eating sufficient calories or nutrients. 
  • Eating habits that interfere with normal social functions. 
  • They unexpectedly lose weight or poor development for age and height. 
  • Nutrient deficiencies or dependence on supplements or tube feeding to maintain healthy nutrient levels. 

Rumination Disorder

A newly recognized eating disorder, rumination, is when people regurgitate food they have previously chewed. Someone with rumination disorder will chew food, swallows it, then either re-swallows it or spits it out. They usually do this within the first 30 minutes after a meal. It’s similar to reflux, but in this case, it’s voluntary. 

Rumination disorders start during infancy, childhood, or adulthood. While infancy, the condition often disappears on its own. Children and adults might need therapy to treat it. This condition, when left untreated, can lead to extreme weight loss and severe malnutrition. 

Signs of Rumination Disorder

Unlike other eating disorders, it can be challenging to know when someone struggles with rumination disorder since their eating habits appear normal. Most of the regurgitation of food happens in secret after a meal.

  • Restriction of the amount of food they eat, particularly in public. 
  • Complaints of digestive problems like indigestion and stomach aches.
  • Dental problems, such as tooth decay and bad breath.
  • Unexpected weight loss and malnutrition.

Other Eating Disorders

Besides the common ones, other conditions like pica cause people to crave non-food substances like dirt or pebbles. Some people struggle with purging disorder that leads them to use purging behaviors like vomiting and laxatives, but they don’t binge. Night eating syndrome causes people to overeat after awakening from sleep frequently. 

While not found in the DSM-5, other-specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) includes conditions similar to an eating disorder but don’t fall into major categories. For example, orthorexia causes people to have an obsessive focus on healthy eating to the extent that it disrupts their daily lives. Compulsive exercise can also fall under this category. 

The Dangerous Connection with Addiction

In the end, the different types of eating disorders are highly compulsive disorders that can lead to many co-occurring conditions. Almost 94% of those with an eating disorder have a co-occurring mental illness, with about 22% struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder.

Researchers believe that 1 in 4 people with an eating disorder has symptoms of PTSD. of women hospitalized for an eating disorder, almost 37 percent regularly engaged in self-harming behaviors. Overall, eating disorders can have a detrimental effect on someone’s mental health, and they need proper medical advice to manage these disorders.

Believe it or not, many individuals struggling with eating disorders will fall addicted to diet pills or laxatives. Because many illicit substances also diminish appetite, they often start experimenting with these substances to control their eating patterns. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we know that many recovering addicts also struggle with different eating disorders. Through our comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment plans, we offer the support they need to manage their conditions simultaneously, so they can focus on what matters most — their recovery. 

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