Dual Diagnosis

Eating Disorders: Types of Eating Disorders and How They’re Treated

What are the most common eating disorders? Learn more about these devastating (and potentially lethal) mental disorders in our blog.

Eating Disorders: Types of Eating Disorders and How They’re Treated

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

May 8, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

Eating disorders affect millions of Americans every year and usually begin during adolescence. Self-image, food, eating, and body weight each become a source of serious anxiety for people, and they experience distorted thinking and behaviors that cause problems. These disorders can even be life-threatening.

Collectively speaking, eating disorders impact 5% of the majority of people in America, as stated by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Emotions and conduct linked with eating disorders involve restrictive eating or avoiding specific foods, excessive eating, cleansing by vomiting, misusing laxatives, or obsessive activities. Behaviors like these can replicate an addiction.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are linked with behavioral disorders represented by chronic and constant trouble with eating and feeding conduct and are connected to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Eating disorders can be highly severe conditions influencing physiological, mental, and social processes. 

Where Do Eating Disorders Come From?

Generally, eating disorders exist with other comorbidities in a person, such as mental disorders like anxiety and mood disorders, substance use disorders (SUDs), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is enough proof that suggests hereditary and genetic factors play a significant role in why certain individuals are at elevated risk for contracting eating disorders.

However, eating disorders can also affect people with no family background of the illness. 

Therapy for eating disorders should tackle mental, behavioral, dietary, and other medical difficulties. Addressing these disorders might include the effects of malnutrition or purging behaviors, including cardiovascular and digestive problems and potentially lethal conditions. Neglecting treatment for eating disorders, refusing an issue with binge eating and increased weight, or anxiety about varying eating patterns is common.

Nevertheless, with professional healthcare, people with eating disorders can gain sobriety and restart a healthy eating journey with improved mental and physical health. 

What Are some Common Eating Disorders?

Various eating disorders include binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, bulimia nervosa, certain other particular feeding and eating conditions, rumination disorder, and pica. Among many eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are specifically more typical in women; however, the abovementioned eating disorders can target people of any age or gender.

Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is denoted by loss of appetite and reduced weight, causing low body mass against a specific age and height. Anorexia has been reported as having the highest death rate of any psychological diagnosis other than opioid abuse disorder and can prove extremely severe. BMI or Body Mass Index used for measuring height and weight, is commonly under 18.5 in an adult suffering from anorexia nervosa.  

Nutritional deficiencies in anorexia nervosa are motivated by a strong fear of acquiring weight or appearing overweight. Although some people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa claim to want and are attempting to gain weight, their actions are inconsistent with this claim. They may, for instance, consume only small portions of low-calorie items and exercise extensively.

On the other hand, some people with anorexia nervosa will consume excessive amounts and then purge by throwing up or abusing laxatives.

Anorexia nervosa is classified into two subareas:

Restrictive Type

In this type of anorexia nervosa, people reduce weight primarily through cutting calories, fasting, or severe exercise.

Compulsive Eating/Purging Type

In this form of anorexia nervosa, people indulge in recurrent excessive food consumption and purging.

A number of the signs listed below may emerge as a result of hunger or purging practices over time:

  • Stoppage of menstruation

  • Drowsiness and nausea from dehydration

  • Cold sensitivity

  • Muscle withering and stiffness

  • Bloating and indigestion 

  • After-meal diarrhea, abdominal pain, and heaviness

  • Stress fractures caused by excessive activity, in addition to decreased bone density leading to osteoporosis (bone thinning)

  • Depression, irritation, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and exhaustion

  • Serious medical issues, such as cardiac rhythm irregularities, particularly in people with gastrointestinal difficulties or epileptic attacks, can be fatal.

How Is Anorexia Nervosa Treated?

Anorexia nervosa management entails assisting those affected in normalizing their dietary habits and weight management practices and restoring their weight. A vital part of the treatment strategy is a health assessment and therapy for any co-occurring behavioral or health-related issues.

The dietary strategy should concentrate on assisting individuals in overcoming eating anxiety and practicing ingesting a diverse well-rounded variety of foods with varying calorie contents at properly scheduled meals. The most successful treatments for teenagers and young adults entail assisting parents in supporting and monitoring their child's mealtime.

When ambulatory care seems ineffective for anorexia nervosa, enrolment in a residential program might be opted for. Most specialty programs for eating disorders are well-versed in weight management and regulating eating habits, but the risk of recurrence remains high in the first year after program completion.

Eating Disorders: Bulimia Nervosa

Obsessive or binge eating is described as consuming significant quantities of food quickly while feeling overwhelmed by the amount. Binge eating is frequently hidden and accompanied by feelings of guilt or humiliation. Binges can be quite substantial, and food is frequently consumed quickly, past fullness, to the degree that causes nausea and pain. Individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa generally eat high-calorie foods compulsively.

Binges happen at least once a week and typically comply with “compensatory actions” to avoid gaining weight. Sacrificing food, throwing up, laxative abuse, and excessive physical activity are examples of such actions. Bulimia nervosa patients, like anorexics, are overly concerned with their diet, weight, or size, adversely and significantly undermining their self-worth.

Since they don't seem to be underweight and their habits are concealed, others close to them might not be aware that an individual has bulimia nervosa. 

The following list contains possible signs of bulimia nervosa:

  • Frequent toilet visits immediately following meals

  • Recurring painful throat

  • Unknown cause of recurring diarrhea

  • Salivary gland swelling in the cheeks

  • Dental decay caused by gastric acid eroding tooth enamel

  • Misuse of laxatives or diet pills

  • Misuse of diuretic pills

  • Gastroesophageal reflux syndrome and indigestion

  • Feeling disoriented or collapsing as a result of dehydration caused by severe purging actions

  • Food vanishing in large quantities or mysterious empty packets and boxes of food

Bulimia can cause rare but possibly catastrophic consequences such as esophageal rips, stomach rupture, and life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. Therefore, medical supervision is essential in situations with severe bulimia nervosa to detect and alleviate any potential problems.

How Is Bulimia Nervosa Treated?

The most evidence-based therapy for bulimia nervosa is ambulatory-based behavioral therapy. It assists patients in normalizing their eating habits and managing thoughts and emotions contributing to the illness's persistence. Fluoxetine, an antidepressant, can also reduce the desire to gorge on food and vomit.

Family counseling for eating disorders, which includes teaching caretakers how to support a teenager or young adult to regularize their eating habits, may also be beneficial in tackling bulimia nervosa in young children.

Eating Disorders: Binge Eating Disorder

Similar to bulimia nervosa, individuals with binge eating disorders have bouts of compulsive eating which include consuming large amounts of food in a short time, losing control over excessive eating, and being depressed by this behavior.

Those suffering do not adopt compensatory measures to get rid of the food regularly, such as throwing up, not eating, working out, or misusing laxatives, as persons with bulimia nervosa do. Binge eating disorders can result in significant health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart disease.

Binge eating disorder is defined by repeated overeats (a minimum of each week over three months), an overwhelming feeling of not having control, and at least three of the traits listed below:

  • Eating at a faster rate than usual

  • Consuming a lot of food while you're not hungry

  • Eating until you're stuffed

  • Dining alone because one feels ashamed by the quantity one consumes

  • Following a binge, one may feel dissatisfied, sad, or extremely guilty

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?

Similar to the treatment for bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder calls for interpersonal or community-based counseling. Personalized therapy is also proven impactful, combined with prescribed antidepressants and central nervous system stimulants. 

Eating Disorders: Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (Arfid)

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder involves eating very little or not eating some foods at all. As a result, the eating pattern frequently fails to meet the basic daily dietary requirements. This may cause issues with advancement, growth, and everyday functioning.

On the other hand, individuals with this eating disorder have no concerns about gaining weight or increasing their body size.

Instead, they may be unwilling to eat or might resist foods of a certain color, appearance, fragrance, or flavor. Or they may be concerned about what might happen while munching. For instance, children may be afraid of choking or nausea or be concerned about gastrointestinal problems.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder can be identified and detected at any age; however, it is more prevalent among children under five. In youth, the disease can cause significant weight reduction or an inability to acquire weight. Conversely, a lack of a sufficient diet might result in serious health issues.

ARFID is diagnosed when eating issues are connected with any or all of the following:

  • A substantial drop in weight (or inability to put on weight is predicted in children)

  • There is an extensive nutritional shortage.

  • A requirement is to depend on a feeding device or oral supplements to ensure adequate nutrient intake

  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships (for example, being unable to eat with others)

  • ARFID treatment consists of a customized strategy that may include the services of numerous professionals, including a professional in the field of mental health, a licensed dietitian, and others.

Eating Disorders: Pica

Pica is a form of eating disorder whereby an individual regularly consumes items that are not edible and have no nutritional significance. The behavior has been going on for at least thirty days and is sufficiently alarming to demand medical treatment. Paper, watercolors, detergent, fabric, human hair, rope, chalk, steel, stones, wood or rock, or mud are common things consumed, depending on age and accessibility.

Pica patients do not often have an overall dislike for the food.

How Is Pica Treated?

Treatment for pica includes evaluating dietary inadequacies and, if necessary, correcting them. Pica treatment may entail steering the client away from items that are not food and encouraging them to put aside or eliminate nonfood objects.

Eating Disorders: Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder is characterized by frequent reflux and re-chewing of a food item after eating, in which ingested food is deliberately taken back up into the mouth and eaten again. Rumination disorder can occur at any age, including early childhood, teenage years, and maturity. To be diagnosed, the actions must:

  • Happen at least once a month

  • Not be the result of a gastric or health problem

  • Not occur in conjunction with any of the other compulsive eating disorders described above

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Eating Disorders: How Can You Help a Loved One?

Many persons with eating disorders may believe they do not require therapy. Unfortunately, one of the most common characteristics of numerous eating disorders is a failure to recognize the bad symptoms. Furthermore, shame and remorse frequently discourage people from seeking help for eating disorders.

If you are concerned about a close friend or relative, encourage them to consult with a healthcare specialist. Even if the individual is unwilling to confess to having a food problem, you can start the conversation by showing compassion and a willingness to listen.

The following are indications that could signal an eating disorder:

  • Frequent and continuous concerns or objections about being ill or overweight and discussions about reducing weight

  • Weight loss with the use of nutritional supplements, diuretics, or medicinal herbs

  • Eating in private

  • Withdrawal from common social engagements

  • An extremely restricted diet that a competent medical expert has not approved

  • Too much emphasis on food or nutritious eating, mainly when it entails missing out on regular occasions like sports events, family dinners, or eating out

  • Looking in the mirror frequently for perceived flaws

  • Discuss feelings of despair, disgust, humiliation, or guilt concerning one's eating habits

  • Leaving during or immediately following a meal to use the restroom

Get Help for Eating Disorders at the Edge Treatment Center

Choosing the right treatment clinic for managing eating disorders is crucial. Apart from assisting with substance abuse conditions, The Edge Treatment Center has extensive experience in successfully treating mental health disorders such as eating disorders.

Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our mental health center is a warm, welcoming place where eating disorders can be treated with evidence-based methods. Our compassionate staff of healthcare experts will help you or a loved one explore the roots of their eating disorders and develop healthy coping skills that will last a lifetime.

Eating disorders are often lethal if left untreated. Don’t deny yourself a happier life. Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more about our eating disorders program.

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