Talking about eating disorders is no longer as taboo as it used to be. In the United States, nearly 28 million people say they have suffered from an eating disorder at some point in their life. And while eating disorders involve disordered eating habits around food, the issue goes much deeper! It’s important to understand eating disorders as mental health conditions with complex causes and symptoms.
If you’ve ever wondered “Do I have an eating disorder?” read on to learn more about the different types of eating disorders, signs and symptoms, and the best available treatment options for eating disorder (ED) recovery.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder can be difficult to identify, but the first step is to realize that an ED is not a lifestyle choice or an extreme diet– it’s a mental illness. An eating disorder is a serious mental health issue that results in disordered eating behaviors such as restricting food intake, binging, purging, or an obsession with exercising.
While EDs can coincide with other mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, studies show that biological factors play a large role. But eating disorders affect people from any demographic, regardless of age, size, gender, sexuality, or personal history.
An eating disorder may manifest in mental or behavioral symptoms such as sudden weight loss, preoccupation with food or body image, limiting food intake, and restricting certain foods. Physical signs of an ED might include excessive stomach cramping, dizziness, fainting, trouble sleeping, menstrual irregularities, thinning hair, or damaged tooth enamel.
Types of eating disorders
People suffering from Anorexia Nervosa exhibit an intense fear of weight gain, regardless of their weight. Anorexia is characterized by severe food restriction, low body weight, and body dysmorphia. This eating disorder is one of the more well-known disorders and is characterized by an abnormally low body weight, fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted perception of weight.
Bulimia Nervosa is generally characterized by a cycle of binging and purging. But unlike Anorexia, a person with Bulimia can be at a normal or healthy weight while still internalizing a very harsh view of their own body and engaging in harmful behaviors. Bulimia involves overeating followed by self-induced vomiting.
Binge eating involves eating large amounts of food and feeling a loss of control, shame, or guilt. Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the US and affects men, women, and children.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID, causes individuals to develop selective eating habits. Since people with ARFID express little interest in food, their feeding patterns can result in malnutrition and stunted growth. ARFID may manifest as being extremely picky and having a short list of safe foods.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders
OSFED encapsulates the evolving list of other eating disorders that may not fit the above categories but still present as serious eating disorders. This new category can include undefined or newly recognized conditions like diabulimia and orthorexia. (OSFED was previously known as EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.)
Signs of eating disorders
Just as there are many different types of eating disorders, there are also varying symptoms. The signs of an eating disorder can range from psychological to mental to physical, but all are the result of a preoccupation with food, eating, and body image.
Take a minute to think about your relationship with food. Today’s culture can make it hard to appreciate all that your body does for you. But internalizing these harmful beauty standards can cause lifelong damage to your body and your mind. Common signs of an eating disorder can manifest in psychological or mental behaviors, such as:
- Engaging with food in unhealthy ways, like eating to cope with difficult emotions
- Eating in secret or refusing to eat with others, often resulting in a withdrawal from friends and social activities
- Labeling foods as “good” or “bad”
- Restricting entire food groups or participating in fad diets
- An obsession with exercising or counting calories
- Developing rituals or rules around eating, leading to distress when these behaviors cannot be followed
- A preoccupation with food, body image, or gaining weight
- A distorted body image
- Low self-esteem
The signs of an eating disorder can be seen in the physical body, too. Some symptoms of eating disorders include
- Irregular bowel movements, frequent cramping or constipation, acid reflux
- Menstrual irregularities
- Brittle nails or blue-ish fingertips
- Discolored teeth from vomiting
- Issues with sleeping
- Dry hair and skin
- Swelling of feet
- Failure to regulate body temperature
- Muscle weakness and heart problems
How an eating disorder can affect your life
It doesn’t take a long time for an eating disorder to make an impact on a person physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The preoccupation with weight or body image can lead to drug use, social withdrawal, the disruption of daily life, and damage to your health. Without treatment, eating disorders can result in serious health issues such as depression, heart conditions, and even death.
Eating disorder treatment options
Don’t let an eating disorder rule your life. Full recovery is possible with a comprehensive approach that involves eating disorder treatment, counseling, and therapy. With the help of comprehensive individualized treatment plans, it’s easy to find an option to accommodate your specific triggers and goals.
Individualized eating disorder treatment
Family or friend support systems, meal support, evidence-based treatment, faith-based treatment, and holistic alternatives are all accessible to you on your path to recovery. An intensive approach to healing can involve grocery shopping support, a focus on developing restaurant outing skills, and exposure therapy.
Nutrition therapy and counseling
Working through treatment goals will involve addressing disordered thoughts and behaviors, deconstructing body dysmorphia, and repairing broken relationships. Talking to a licensed professional can help you redefine your relationship with food by challenging your triggers and engaging in healthy coping mechanisms.
Take the first step toward recovery from disordered eating today.
How do you know if you have an eating disorder? Identifying an ED can be tricky because it can take the form of a new diet or lifestyle change, while at other times disordered eating habits are kept private. If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, our free quiz can help you identify your condition and inform your treatment options.
Take the free quiz “Do I Have an Eating Disorder?” today! Our licensed therapists and counselors are standing by to answer your questions about what constitutes an eating disorder. New Hope Counseling and Wellness Center is here to guide you through the available treatment options for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, ARFID, and other specified feeding or eating disorders. The shame around disordered eating stops now!