What are The Different Types of Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders refer to a variety of serious mental illnesses characterized by troubled or abnormal eating habits. These conditions generally originate from an obsession with body weight, body shape or food. They are indiscriminate and can affect children and adolescents as well as men and women at any stage of their lives.
Many people the world over do not understand the severity of eating disorders. In fact, a majority of people think eating disorders are phases or individual lifestyle choices. The truth however is that eating disorders are very serious mental illnesses that can cause serious health consequences and even death.
Contrary to what many people think, people suffering from these mental illnesses have no control over their conditions and in most cases; they do not even know that they are sick and need help.
In the United States alone, a national survey estimated that 10 million men and 20 million women will develop an eating disorder at one point in their lives. This rise in eating disorders is however not specific to developed countries alone.
In fact, eating disorders are on the rise in Lebanon just as they are on the rise in most countries both in the developed and in the developing world.
No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders but there is a growing belief that these conditions could be caused by a variety of sociocultural, biological and physiological factors.
Although eating disorders are serious conditions that can pose life-threatening risks, they are treatable especially when diagnosed and treated in early stages. And while treatment is highly effective before the eating disorder becomes chronic, people suffering from chronic eating disorders have been treated successfully.
Below are some of the common eating disorders, their symptoms and treatment.
Commonly referred to simply as anorexia, this is considered the most dangerous type of eating disorder. It is often fueled by an obsession with body weight and a fear of gaining weight. Although anorexia can affect people irrespective of their gender, it is more prevalent in girls (adolescents) and young women between the ages of 15 and 24.
People with anorexia usually have a distorted view of their body image and a chronic fear of being overweight even when they are clinically considered underweight. They starve themselves and restrict their calorie intake and the types of food they eat, exercise compulsively and may use laxatives or induce vomiting in order to purge after they eat.
Usually, anorexics are in denial about their condition and they usually believe that they are healthy.
It is very important to know that patients suffering from anorexia do not choose to be anorexic. Usually families and friends of the anorexic individual only come to fully understand this fact when they learn about anorexia.
Symptoms of anorexia
It is impossible to diagnose anorexia nervosa simply by looking at an individual. However, some of the warning signs that may suggest presence of anorexia may include:
- An obsession with food, calories, dieting and weight.
- Significant weight loss.
- Excessive dieting or exercising.
- Frequent comments about gaining weight or feeling ‘fat’ from a seemingly thin or underweight person.
- Dressing in layers of clothing or in baggy clothes or stay warm or hide weight loss.
- Altered, delayed or absence of menstruation.
- Failure to maintain a normal/healthy body weight.
Potential Health Consequences of Anorexia
- Organ failure e.g. kidney failure due to severe dehydration.
- Dry skin and brittle hair.
- Low blood pressure, slow heart rate and even heart failure.
- Frequent tiredness, fatigue and general muscle weakness.
- Muscle wasting.
- Loss of consciousness.
Studies show that of all psychiatric (mental) illnesses, anorexic nervosa has the highest mortality rate. It is estimated that the death rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the mortality rate of ALL causes of death for female adolescents and young adults ( between ages 15-24 years)
Addressing the underlying psychological issues that contribute to the individual developing anorexia is critical in order to effectively treat anorexia. Moral support from the patient’s family and friends also plays in treating anorexia.
Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia
Sometimes referred to as reversed anorexia, this type of eating disorder is mainly characterized by a distorted view or perception of body image. A patient suffering from bigorexia is usually obsessed with body image and appearance.
Men with muscle dysmorphia often exercise compulsively, spend excessive time in front of the mirror, seeking assurance about their bodies from other people and comparing themselves to other men.
They also tend to abuse steroids with the aim of building muscle mass and increasing the sizes of their muscles.
This condition is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder that is increasingly common in men.
Although there is no known cause of muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia, experts agree that like other obsessive compulsive disorders, this condition is linked to a range of genetic, environmental and brain imbalance factors.
Symptoms of Muscle Dysmorphia /Bigorexia
- Abuse of anabolic steroids
- Spending too much time in the mirror checking one’s muscle size
- Avoiding mirrors
- An obsession with weight and muscle size
- Excessive compulsive exercising
- Wearing oversize or baggy clothes to hide one’s perceived imperfections
- Great feeling of distress when one misses a workout or deviates from their diet.
Although Muscle dysmorphia/ Bigorexia may not be as dangerous as anorexia nervosa, it is still a serious condition that may cause severe depression and significantly limit one’s quality of life. Abuse of steroids also puts patients at risk if developing other life-threatening conditions.
There are effective treatment options for this type of eating disorder. Treatment involves a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and prescribing antidepressant medications known as Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs).
This treatment approach reduces obsessive thoughts and gives patients more control over their compulsive habits like excessive mirror checking and working out.
This is a serious eating disorder that is potentially life-threatening. People with bulimia nervosa tend to gorge on large amounts of food in a short time span followed by purging as a result of guilt and the fear of gaining weight. After gorging on food, bulimic patients experience feelings of guilt and self-disgust and they therefore induce forced vomiting, take laxatives and diuretics with an aim of avoiding weight gain and/or getting rid of calories before they are absorbed. Bulimic patients may exercise compulsively.
There are two types of bulimia nervosa. They include:
Purging type bulimia nervosa: where an individual loses control after bouts of excessive compulsive eating and goes to abnormal lengths like forcing vomiting and taking laxatives in order to ‘fix” emotions of guilt and self-loathing.
Non-purging bulimia nervosa: where a bulimic patient does not purge after eating compulsively but rather uses other unhealthy methods like starving themselves, abnormal fasting and exercising compulsively with an aim of compensating for the compulsive eating bouts.
Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
- Eating excessive amounts of food compulsively on a regular basis.
- Loss of control when eating or afterwards followed by feelings of self-loathing and guilt.
- Using diuretics and laxatives or inducing forced vomiting to compensate for compulsive eating episodes.
- Extreme obsession with weight and body shape.
Medical issues specific to patients with purging bulimia nervosa include; tooth rot as a result of stomach acid harm, throat inflammation as a result of vomiting, bowel problems resulting from excessive use of laxatives and diuretics, imbalanced electrolytes etc.
Depending on severity, bulimia nervosa can be effectively treated through psychological and therapeutic counseling approaches. Moral and emotional support from family is also vital in effective treatment of bulimia.
Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating Disorder
Compulsive eating disorder is the most common eating disorder compared to all other eating disorders. Like people with Bulimia, people with compulsive eating disorder usually binge-eat (gorge themselves on food) with feelings of guilt, shame and distress after binging and even during the binging episode.
Unlike bulimia nervosa patients however, people with this type of eating disorder rarely use unhealthy compensating techniques like purging, fasting or excessive exercises to compensate for the binge eating bouts. They end up gaining a lot of weight and becoming overweight or obese.
Symptoms and Warning Signs
- Recurrent binge-eating episodes for example; binge eating once a week for three months.
- Obsession with body weight and shape.
- No definite planned mealtimes.
- Obsession with checking oneself on the mirror.
- Frequent dieting and exercising compulsively.
- Disappearance of food in short periods of time.
- Significant weight gain or fluctuations in weight.
- Feeling uncomfortable eating in public.
- Self-loathing, disgust, guilt and feelings of depression after eating.
- Eating in secret or hoarding food in order to eat in secret.
People with compulsive or binge eating disorder are at a higher risk of developing obesity. However, not all clinically obese people have compulsive eating disorder.
Compulsive eating disorder is usually treated by addressing the underlying factors through psychological counseling. Moral support from one’s family is also vital for effective treatment.
Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED)
Unlike other eating disorders; people with this type of disorder are not conscious of their eating as they are usually asleep during an episode. Patients with this eating disorder will sleep walk and eat while asleep and therefore will not have any memory of eating during the night when they wake up in the morning.
This usually affects people who regularly avoid eating food during the day. When they are asleep, the body compensates for the starvation during the day and tricks the mind to eat during sleep. This disorder is usually triggered by anxiety stress or depression.
- Unexplained disappearance of stored food in the morning.
- Empty food wrappers or containers.
- Waking up in the morning feeling full.
This type of eating disorder is treated using a combination of psychological counseling to address the underlying causes and antidepressant medications.
Night Eating Syndrome (NES)
This type of eating disorder involves eating a lot of food after dinner or just before bed usually around midnight. People with this eating disorder usually skip breakfast and won’t anything again before midday.
Night Eating Syndrome puts people at more risk of becoming overweight and developing obesity.
- Eating large amounts of food after eating dinner.
- Delayed eating in the morning.
- Weight gain.
Antidepressants improves NES