Eating disorders are very serious mental health conditions. They are increasing in numbers all over the world, and have the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder.
There are many different types of eating disorders.
Unfortunately, people sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between these different types. Let’s distinguish the more common types of eating disorders from the less talked about ones:
Common eating disorders
Less common eating disorders:
- Rumination Syndrome
- Night Eating Syndrome
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
- Orthorexia Nervosa
Now that you’re aware of these different types of eating disorders, let’s briefly discuss the central characteristics of each group.
Anorexia nervosa is the most serious eating disorder characterized by persistently low body weight, extreme dietary restriction, fear of weight gain, and a strong desire to be thin.
Many of those who suffer from anorexia nervosa believe that they are overweight. And, even though they are considerably underweight, these individuals often deny that they are of low body weight.
A portion of people with anorexia nervosa engage in binge eating and various compensatory behaviors, including driven exercise, self-induced vomiting, and laxative misuse.
Bulimia nervosa is another common eating disorder characterized by an overvaluation of weight and shape (where self-worth is equated with weight and shape) and recurrent binge eating (eating a large amount of food while simultaneously feeling out of control) in combination with inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., self-induced vomiting).
People with bulimia nervosa often attempt to diet, but because the diet is usually so strict and demanding, they consequently feel the need to binge eat in response to it.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge-eating disorder is one of the most common eating disorders. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating without any inappropriate compensatory behaviors.
The binge eating is usually associated with significant shame, guilt, and regret, and people with binge-eating disorder find themselves bingeing on very high calorie foods.
Often, the binge eating is caused by negative emotions more so than attempts to diet. Many people with binge-eating disorder are overweight or obese, so it is not surprising that negative body image is very common in those affected.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
Think of OSFED as the “rest”. In other words, OSFED occurs when a person presents with eating behaviors that cause clinically significant distress and impairment, but do not meet the full criteria for any of the other eating disorders mentioned above.
There are many different types of OSFEDs:
- Atypical anorexia nervosa: where all criteria for anorexia nervosa are met, but the individual is within or above the normal weight range.
- Binge eating disorder of low frequency and/or limited duration: All of the criteria for binge-eating disorder are met, except at a lower frequency and/or for less than three months.
- Bulimia Nervosa of low frequency and/or limited duration: All of the criteria for bulimia nervosa are met, except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior occurs at a lower frequency and/or for less than three months
Pica is a relatively uncommon feeding disorder, which involves eating items that are not typically thought of as food and that do not contain any nutritional value.
For example, people with pica may choose to eat hair, paint, or dirt.
It is important to note that the ingestion of the substance is not part of a culturally supported or socially normative practice (e.g., certain culture groups promote eating clay as part of a medicinal practice). Moreover, the eating of these substances must be developmentally inappropriate. For example, pica would not occur in children aged 2 or below who put small objects in their mouth to explore their senses.
Rumination syndrome is a rare, less-talked-about feeding disorder characterized by effortless regurgitation of most foods following consumption, due to the involuntary contraction of the muscles around the abdomen.
The regurgitation is not the usual self-induced vomiting we see in bulimia nervosa; rather, it is effortless and there is no retching, nausea, heartburn, odor, or abdominal pain associated, and it is not practiced for weight loss purposes. The disorder is mostly seen in children with developmental problems, but adults can also experience it.
Night Eating Syndrome
In night eating syndrome, people feel the need to compulsively eat at night. Most of the calories they consume is during the night and people find themselves eating after awakening from sleep, or by excessive food consumption after the evening meal.
The behavior is not better explained by environmental influences or social norms, or by the presence of another mental health problem, like binge-eating disorder. People who exhibit night eating syndrome experience clinically significant distress and impairment.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID is a feeding and eating disorder that is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs.
This can, therefore, lead to significant and rapid weight loss; nutritional deficiency; dependence on oral nutritional supplements; and significant interference with psychological, social, and emotional functioning.
Note that ARFID is not associated with body image concerns nor is it a result of a lack of available food.
Orthorexia Nervosa is not an official eating disorder, but it is getting more and more research and clinical attention. It is characterized by an obsession or unhealthy fixation with eating healthy foods.
Other common characteristics of orthorexia Nervosa include; a strong desire to consume a personally defined healthy diet; elimination of foods and food groups believed to be impure; obsessive preoccupation with the quality of food eaten; excessive amount of time spent reading about or preparing specific foods based on their perceived quality; and intolerance of others’ food beliefs.