Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Eating disorders are complex and multifaceted mental health conditions. Often stereotypically shown in the media as affecting thin white women, eating disorders are not a one-size-fits-all mental health disorder. While most common for girls and women, boys and men account for 35% of binge eating disorders.
Eating disorders are complex and have many layers. It is unknown why some people are at more of a risk for eating disorders than others are. Eating disorders can stem from many things, such as biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.
However, we do know that eating disorders do not discriminate and affect different people for different reasons. There is also not just one type of eating disorder.
Eating disorders often stem from the desire to lose weight and control one’s eating habits. While the intention is good, it can quickly get out of hand by people becoming obsessed with controlling how they look and what they eat. Here, we’ll explain the different types of eating disorders, and the effects each has on your mental health.
WHAT ARE EATING DISORDERS?
Eating disorders can be difficult to define because there are so many different classifications. Each one can affect people very differently. While difficult to define and often not discussed, eating disorders affect over one million people. In a nutshell, eating disorders are a mental health condition in which individuals develop an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. The three most common eating disorders are binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia. While often thought of as affecting thin females, eating disorders also affect men and overweight individuals.
Is Obesity An Eating Disorder?
Not everyone who is obese has an eating disorder, but obesity is a symptom of an eating disorder. Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders do not only contribute to one being unhealthily skinny. Eating disorders often live in plain sight, as many individuals only associate eating disorders with looking too thin. Eating disorders don’t just contribute to individuals losing weight.Those with an eating disorder can also gain weight by forming an unhealthy relationship with food.
Individuals with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) are often overweight or obese. BED is an illness where an individual eats too much food and uses food as a coping mechanism. BED episodes include: eating food alone due to self-image issues, eating faster than usual, eating food for the sake of eating (not when hungry), eating until feeling way too full, feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after binge eating. Feelings of guilt can lead to a negative outlook on life. Waves of BED are typically not followed by throwing up, too much exercise, or not eating.
Depression And Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can lead to depression, and depression can lead to eating disorders. Individuals who are depressed and have a negative body image might develop an eating disorder as an unhealthy means to lose weight. Society has played an unhealthy role in body image issues by highlighting unrealistic body images and favoring thin people. This warped view can take a toll on one’s self-worth and lead to depression and eating disorders.
Those who are depressed have a negative outlook on the world and their self-worth. This can easily lead to an eating disorder as an unhealthy coping mechanism by eating too much or too little and spending time fixating on food. Remember: there is no exact cause of an eating disorder, and everyone is different. However, depression is one of the most common mood disorders to co-occur with an eating disorder.
About half of all patients who were diagnosed with a binge eating disorder have a history of depression. Individuals with anorexia also reported feeling depressed. When individuals develop an eating disorder, they feel that they are not good enough and become their worst critic, which further worsens their depression.
Doctors determine if depression is part of an eating disorder by asking a series of questions that correlate with the top signs of depression. The most common characteristics of depression are:
- Feeling down and unhappy
- No interest in activities that once brought you joy
- Loss of libido
- Issues sleeping
- Little to no appetite
While it is often “easier” to diagnose someone with depression, it can be more challenging to treat patients with depression and an eating disorder. This should not discourage you from asking for help and getting the treatment you need to live a fruitful and healthy life.
Body Image And Eating Disorders
Individuals with a negative body image are more likely to develop an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from depression. This is a catch-22. A common occurrence of eating disorders is having body image issues. Eating or a lack of eating is often used as an unhealthy coping mechanism for body image issues.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different and that undereating or overeating is not a healthy way to cope with not having your ideal body type. If you do not feel happy with your body, eating healthy and working out is a great and safe way to lose weight while keeping your mind and body healthy. While easier said than done, don’t compare your body to others. Everyone’s bodies are different and should be treated with respect.
It is also common for eating disorders to come from issues that have little to do with your body, like feeling a lack of control. It is important to remember in these circumstances that your body does not deserve to be punished for negative things happening in other areas of your life. You can best handle the issues that are causing you stress when you are well-rested and well-fed.
One of the most common types of eating disorders portrayed in the media is Bulimia Nervosa. This is a disorder in which individuals eat copious amounts of food and then force themselves to purge to counteract the effects of binge eating. This eating disorder is often well disguised, as the individual looks fine (according to society’s standards) and regularly eats in public. However, when alone, the individual might go to the bathroom and force them to throw up. In many cases, the individual sees their body as not ideal and associates food with weight gain.
Another common eating disorder is Anorexia Nervosa. This eating disorder also stems from body image issues. The individuals starve themselvesso they don’t gain weight. This eating disorder is sometimes the most obvious to an onlooker because the person can appear skinny and frail. Symptoms of anorexia include fasting, excessive exercise, fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, food restriction, binge eating, and/or purging behaviors.
Besides the most common types of eating disorders, there are also other types of eating disorders that are less common but still important. If you or someone you know has any of these eating disorders, remember that you are not alone and seek help.
Other Types Of Eating Disorders:
Having an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Symptoms include compulsively checking food labels, great concern over health labels, unable to eat anything not deemed healthy, obsessed with health and what others are eating.
An eating disorder where individuals eat nonfood items that do not contain nutritional value, such as hair, dirt, and paint chips.
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
The most common eating disorder for adults and adolescents of any gender. This classification is for individuals with some symptoms of an eating disorder but not all of the symptoms. An individual with OSFED does not fall under one category of an eating disorder—such as anorexia—but has symptoms across the board. It is still considered a significant eating disorder. This can be challenging to diagnose, as patients fit under multiple categories.
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
An individual with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and maintain basic body functions. Both ARFID and anorexia have restrictions on the amount and/or types of food consumed. Unlike anorexia, individuals with ARFID do not have body image issues.
- Rumination Disorder
This involves individuals regurgitating food they had previously chewed and swallowed. They either re-swallow, re-chew, or spit out their food. This allows individuals the ability to limit their food intake and can cause weight loss.
- Laxative Abuse
This is where individuals try to absolve the calories they just consumed by taking a laxative to “cleanse” their system. Often consumed after binge eating, individuals believe the laxatives will quickly get rid of food and calories before they can be digested. This does not happen—laxatives contribute to the loss of important things like water, electrolytes, fiber, and wastes from the colon.
To find out if you have an eating disorder, take this mental health test. It’s a free and confidential test that will ask you a series of 12 questions. After answering each question, you’ll be directed to a comprehensive summary of your results, with the option for treatment and the ability to chat with a licensed counselor who can help treat your eating disorder.