Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. Each of these disorders is associated with different but sometimes overlapping symptoms. People exhibiting any combination of these symptoms may have an eating disorder and should be evaluated by a health care provider.
What is anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a condition where people avoid food, severely restrict
food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods. They also may weigh themselves repeatedly. Even when dangerously underweight, they may see themselves as overweight. There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa:
-a restrictive subtype
-a binge-purge subtype.
Restrictive: People with the restrictive subtype of anorexia nervosa severely limit the amount and type of food they consume.
Binge-Purge: People with the binge-purge subtype of anorexia nervosa also greatly restrict the amount and type of food they consume. In addition, they may have binge-eating and purging episodes—devouring large amounts of food, followed by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics to get rid of what was consumed.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- Extremely restricted eating and/or intensive and excessive exercise
- Extreme thinness (emaciation)
- A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Distorted body or self-image that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body
weight and shape
- Denial of the seriousness of low body weight
Over time, anorexia nervosa can lead to numerous serious health consequences,
- Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- Mild anemia
- Muscle wasting and weakness
- Brittle hair and nails
- Dry and yellowish skin
- Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
- Severe constipation
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed breathing and pulse
- Damage to the structure and function of the heart
- Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
- Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
- Brain damage
- Multiple organ failure
Anorexia nervosa can be fatal. It has an extremely high death (mortality) rate compared with other mental disorders. People with anorexia are at risk of dying from medical complications associated with starvation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
What is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is when people have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over their eating. This binge eating is followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating to prevent weight gain, such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. Unlike those with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa may maintain a normal weight or be overweight.
Symptoms and health consequences of bulimia nervosa include:
- Chronically inflamed and sore throat
- Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth from
exposure to stomach acid when vomiting
- Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
- Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
- Severe dehydration from purging
- Electrolyte imbalance (too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) can lead to stroke or heart attack.
What is binge-eating disorder?
Binge-eating disorder is when people lose control of their eating and have reoccurring episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder are often overweight or obese.
Symptoms of binge-eating disorder include:
- Eating unusually large amounts of food in a short amount of time, for example, within two hours.
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Eating even when full or not hungry
- Eating until uncomfortably full
- Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
- Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating
- Frequent dieting, possibly without weight loss
What is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder?
Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), previously known as selective eating disorder, is a condition where people limit the amount or type of food eaten. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with ARFID do not have a distorted body image or extreme fear of gaining weight. ARFID is most common in middle childhood and has an earlier onset than other eating disorders. Many children go through phases of picky eating, but a child with ARFID does not eat enough calories to grow and develop properly. An adult with ARFID does not eat enough calories to maintain primary body function.
Symptoms of ARFID include:
- Dramatic restriction of types or amount of food eaten
- Lack of appetite or interest in food
- Dramatic weight loss
- Upset stomach, abdominal pain, or other gastrointestinal issues with no other known cause
- Limited range of preferred foods that becomes even more limited (“picky
eating” that gets progressively worse)
How are eating disorders treated?
Eating disorders can be treated successfully. Early detection and treatment are important for a full recovery. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for suicide and medical complications.
Treatment plans for eating disorders include psychotherapy, medical care and
monitoring, nutritional counseling, medications, or a combination of these
approaches. Typical treatment goals include:
- Restoring adequate nutrition
- Bringing weight to a healthy level
- Reducing excessive exercise
- Stopping binge-purge and binge-eating behaviors
People with eating disorders also may have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use. It’s critical to treat any co-occurring conditions as part of the treatment plan.