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Eating Disorders: Types, Symptoms, Signs & Causes

Eating disorders are serious and life-threatening illnesses that include extreme emotions and behaviors regarding food issues and weight. These diseases are characterized by overeating or not consuming enough food in order to stay healthy. General statistics show that at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from eating disorder in the U.S, with one person dying every 62 minutes. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and they can appear due to genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits.

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect both females and males, physically, psychologically and socially. The most common forms of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Essentially, they are all concerned with control of weight and shape and there are degrees of severity for all of them.


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a severe mental health condition where an individual keeps their body weight as low as possible. People battling with anorexia nervosa restrict the amount of food they eat, make themselves vomit, and exercise excessively.

According to research, this illness develops out of anxiety about body shape and weight, and is most commonly found in girls and women. These individuals have a distorted image of themselves and are fearful of being fat. 0, 9% of American women suffer from anorexia in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 anorexia deaths is by suicide. Furthermore, while studies argue that 50-80% of the risk for anorexia is genetic, it’s believed that 33-50% of anorexia patients simultaneously suffer from a mood disorder, such as depression. Apart from depression, anorexia patients also have anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia.

Signs of anorexia include:

  • Missing meals
  • Avoiding eating
  • Fanatically counting calories
  • Leaving the table right after eating to vomit
  • Consuming appetite suppressants
  • Constantly checking their body in the mirror
  • Repeatedly weighting themselves
  • Unwillingness to maintain a normal weight
  • Intense fear or gaining weight
  • Distorted body image

Since the body does not receive the essential nutrients it needs in order to function normally, it slows down all of its processes to save energy. Thus, further symptoms can develop over time, including:

  • Mild anemia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing
  • Severe dehydration
  • Fainting, fatigue
  • Damage to the function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Thinning of the bones
  • Lethargy
  • Infertility


Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder that is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors. Individuals battling with bulimia worry excessively about their body shape or weight, which can lead to low levels of self-esteem and self-worth. The reasons for developing bulimia vary from person to person, with most common factors being genetic predisposition, as well as many environmental, social, and cultural factors.

Moreover, people with bulimia nervosa may binge in secret, and then purge in order to get rid of all the extra calories. Sometimes, people may eat only a small snack and vomit forcibly. There are two types of bulimia, purging bulimia and non-purging bulimia. People who suffer from purging bulimia self-induce vomiting or misuse laxatives, while with non-purging bulimia, people use other methods of getting rid of calories such as fasting, strict dieting, as well as excessive exercise.

Additionally, studies discovered that 1.5% of American women suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime, and nearly half of bulimia patients have comorbid mood disorder, substance abuse disorder, or anxiety disorder. Individuals with bulimia tend to maintain a healthy weight, unlike anorexia nervosa.

Signs of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Preoccupation with body shape and weight
  • Living in fear of gaining weight
  • Eating until the point of pain
  • Constant vomiting
  • Excessive exercise
  • Avoiding certain foods
  • Misusing laxatives after eating
  • Using dietary supplements for weight loss

Medical symptoms include:

  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Worn tooth enamel and decaying teeth
  • Acid reflux disorder
  • Severe dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance


Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder are episodes of excessive eating or drinking, affecting 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and 1,6% of adolescents. It is an illness characterized by eating large quantities of food to the point of discomfort, a feeling of loss of control during the binge, and experiencing shame afterwards. Furthermore, people suffering from binge eating disorder feel powerless, beat themselves up for their lack of self-control, and worry about what compulsive eating can do to their body. It occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.

Signs of BED include:

  • Eating in discrete periods of time
  • Eating rapidly
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amount even when not hungry
  • Creating lifestyle schedules to make time for binging
  • Eating alone

Most common emotional and mental symptoms are:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Worthlessness
  • Shame
  • Depression
  • Social isolation
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling disgusted about one’s body size
  • Perfectionistic tendencies


Causes of Eating Disorders

Even with numerous researches conducted into the causes of eating disorders, there is no simple explanation for the disorder. It is most commonly believed that eating disorders develop as a result of personal, family, as well as physical or genetic factors. Furthermore, they can also arise from life experiences that caused someone to be emotionally sensitive about their weight and body shape. In most patients, the eating disorder developed from dieting behavior.

People with eating disorders have several things in common, including:

  • Sensitive to imagined rejection
  • Powerlessness
  • Difficulty managing healthy relationships
  • Perfectionist attitudes
  • Avoiding difficult situations
  • Moments of aggression
  • Lack of confidence

Although many people put the blame on the social pressure to be thin, the causes are more complex than that. Risk factors that can worsen eating disorder include:

  • Having a family history of eating disorders, depression, as well as substance abuse
  • Underlying traits like obsessive-compulsive personality, anxiety disorder, or low self-esteem
  • Complicated relationships with family members or friends
  • Being criticized for their eating habits
  • Past experiences such as sexual or emotional abuse, or the death of a dear person

Biological and environmental factors include:

  • Irregular hormone functions
  • Genetics
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Dysfunctional family
  • Family and childhood trauma
  • Peer pressure
  • Stressful transitions
  • Professions that promote being thin



Treatment for eating disorders is available, and recovery is possible. Due to the severity of these illnesses, individuals must seek help from a professional and comprehensive team specializing in eating disorders. When considering treatment options, it is vital to understand that different people respond to different types of treatment. Usually, the patient will receive a combination of therapy, nutritional education, and medical treatment as part of their recovery program.

The evidence-based treatments listed below are considered to be effective for treating eating disorders.

  • Nutritional counseling – this involves weight restoration and stabilization, guidance for normal eating, and the application of a customized meal plan. It is a vital component of treatment and can help patients maintain a healthy weight.
  • Medication – since the eating disorders can be life-threating, medical attention is obligatory. Medication approaches are essential when the individual with an eating disorder also suffers from another type of disorder, like anxiety, insomnia, or depression. Psychiatrists and medical doctors can prescribe medications that should only be used in conjunction with another treatment approach.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – this type of treatment usually takes 10 to 20 sessions and it can be done individually, in a group, or with family. Its goal is to help people change unhealthy thinking habits, feelings and behaviors.
  • Psychotherapy – this approach is especially helpful in treating any other mental disorder that is contributing to the eating disorder. Psychotherapy can ameliorate an individual’s well-being and mental health, resolve troublesome behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills.
  • Rehab Centers – working with a comprehensive, accredited treatment program for eating disorders can greatly facilitate recovery. Many treatment centers in the U.S provide housing for partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient programs.

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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