Four Types of Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms

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Eating disorders are more than just unhealthy obsessions with food and weight. They’re serious psychological problems that must be addressed immediately. Although these conditions are often treatable, they can cause alarming complications and even lead to death in severe cases. ;

Eating disorders come in many forms. Knowing their differences is the first step to properly treating them.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia is the most common type of eating disorder. Individuals suffering from anorexia often see themselves as overweight when in reality, they tend to be severely underweight. They dangerously restrict their calorie intake and carefully monitor their weight.

Anorexia is categorized into two types:

  • Restricting type. Loss of weight achieved through fasting, dieting, or excessive exercise.
  • Binge eating and purging type. Consuming large amounts of food or eating very little followed by purging through vomiting, taking laxatives, or working out excessively.

People with anorexia are distinctly underweight than people of similar age and height. Their serious fear of gaining weight drives them to dangerously restrict their calories, deny themselves of healthy eating patterns, and have trouble eating in public. What’s more, they’re constantly in denial of being overly thin.

Over time, anorexia can cause brittle nails and hair, weak bones, infertility, and a fine layer of hair growth in different parts of the body. A treatment plan for anorexia nervosa would consist of psychological therapy, partial hospitalization, and supervised weight gain.


Pica involves compulsively eating nonfood substances with no nutritional value. These may include dirt, chalk, soap, ice, paper, hair, cloth, glue among others. While pica is more common in children ages 1 to 6, it can also manifest in adults with developmental disabilities including autism. Most kids may outgrow pica over time, but high-risk individuals may require continued monitoring to prevent other complications.

People with pica may be at risk of infections, bowel problems, intestinal blockage, poisoning, and nutritional deficiencies.

Bulimia nervosa

woman eating pizza in the toiletBulimia is characterized by the desire to eat staggering amounts of food in specific periods. This type of binging can go on until the person feels extremely full to the point of pain.

During a binge episode, individuals may feel an uncontrollable desire to eat food that they typically avoid. Afterwards, they purge through forced vomiting and laxative intake to relieve themselves of abdominal pain and the extra weight gain.

Unlike with anorexia, people suffering from bulimia usually have a relatively normal weight. They may, however, experience constant hormonal imbalances, acid reflux, swollen salivary glands, sore throat, tooth decay, and serious dehydration.

Binge eating disorder

People with binge eating disorder eat massive amounts of food rapidly even when they’re not hungry. They are often overweight or obese. They also do not limit their calorie intake nor do they purge after a binging episode.

Binges usually occur in secret until the individual feels painfully full. Afterwards, the person may feel shame, guilt, or disgust when recalling the binge eating behavior.

Binge eating disorders often cause obesity which can bring a range of medical complications including stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

Eating disorders come with serious, life-threatening consequences and should never be taken lightly. If you worry that you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms, seek help before the condition causes further damage on the mind, body, and spirit.

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