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Understanding Eating Disorders - What are the Different Types of Eating Disorder

written by: Rene Wolf • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/29/2010

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two main categories of eating disorders. A third category is eating disorders not otherwise specified which includes eating disorders such as Pica. All of the eating disorders have some underlying psychological problems and cause serious physical harm.

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    Different Eating Disorders

    An eating disorder is characterized by extreme behaviors surrounding eating habits ranging from starvation to severe overindulgence. The majority of different eating disorders have a primary common feature of an underlying psychological disorder such as depression, low self-esteem or personality disorders. Someone with an eating disorder has an extremely high risk of suffering from numerous physical complications, some of which can lead to death, such as heart problems and diabetes.

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    Anorexia Nervosa

    Anorexia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders and is characterized by extreme thinness, a distortion of body image, an unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight and an intense fear of weight gain. Those with anorexia starve themselves and often have a weight loss that is approximately 15% or more below a recommended body weight.

    These individuals are extremely thin, however they convince themselves that they are overweight. Onset of the disorder usually begins around the age of puberty, typically affecting girls, though boys can also become anorexic. Someone with anorexia continually thinks they are overweight and often develops unusual eating habits such as refusing to let others see them eat.

    They are obsessed with weight loss, weigh themselves continually, ration their food portions and will go to extreme measures to “get thin". Common techniques for weight loss among anorexics are the use of laxatives, excessive eating and refusal to eat. Anorexia nervosa is thought to be common among those with a higher socioeconomic class and/or among people involved in activities where people are typically thin such as dancing, running and/or drama.

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    Effects of Anorexia

    Several symptoms and medical problems can develop over time such as brittle hair/nails, dry/yellowish skin, muscle weakness, anemia, constipation, low blood pressure, bone thinning, slowed breathing/pulse, decrease in body temperature and lethargy. Many with anorexia may also have a coexisting physical and/or psychiatric illness such as anxiety, obsessive behavior, depression, substance abuse, impaired physical development, cardiovascular complications and/or neurological complications. People with anorexia are at high risk of death due to liver disease, kidney disease, electrolyte/food imbalances and/or cardiac arrest. Without treatment, there is a risk of death for approximately 20% of those with anorexia.

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    Bulimia Nervosa

    Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binging and purging. Someone with bulimia will eat large amounts of food, and then purge what they have consumed, often through vomiting. In addition to vomiting some bulimics will take large amounts of laxatives and/or will exercise excessively.

    Someone who is bulimic is typically extremely secretive about their eating and will usually eat by themselves. They are often embarrassed to eat with others and feel they can eat whatever they like and as much as they want without feeling guilty because they can purge.

    Bulimics are often within the normal range of weight for their age, however, they want to lose weight and are unhappy with the size and shape of their body. A bulimic will usually purge several times a week and is often disgusted by or feels shame about their purging. Bulimia is seen equally in females and males.

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    Effects of Bulimia

    Bulimics will often have coexisting psychiatric and/or physical illness such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems and severe tooth/oral problems due to the continuous exposure to stomach acids and electrolyte imbalances. Other symptoms often seen in bulimics include swollen glands in the neck/jaw, intestinal distress, chronic sore/inflamed throat, kidney problems from extensive use of diuretic abuse and severe dehydration from continuous purging of fluids. Those with bulimia suffer many of the same physical symptoms as those with anorexia, however, in addition to other symptoms, bulimics are at high risk of damage to the esophagus due to the continuous exposure to acid content from excessive vomiting.

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    Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)

    EDNOS includes eating disorders such as compulsive overeating, binge eating and rare types of eating such as Pica.

    Someone with compulsive overeating has an uncontrollable obsession with eating large quantities of food even when they are not hungry. Those who are compulsive overeaters will either eat small amounts of food continuously throughout the day or they may overindulge at each meal. Psychological and/or physical effects of compulsive overeating include social withdraw, problems with personal relationships, low self-esteem, depression, mood swings and morbid obesity which can lead to hypertension, enlarged heart, further heart problems, stroke, high cholesterol and diabetes.

    Those with binge eating disorder have episodes of uncontrollable overeating. The symptoms are similar to those of bulimia and/or compulsive overeating, however, unlike bulimia there are no feelings of shame or guilt regarding their abundant consumptions. People who binge eat do not have a compulsion to purge and unlike compulsive overeaters they do not typically eat small amounts throughout the day; instead they will consume large quantities of food all at once. Psychological and/or physical effects include depression, poor self worth, hypertension, heart conditions, high cholesterol and/or diabetes.

    Those with the eating disorder, Pica, have cravings for substances that are inedible including but not limited to plaster, glue, sand, chalk and mud. It is common for women to have Pica during pregnancy, however the disorder does not usually continue following childbirth. Pica is also often seen in those who have a severe iron deficiency and/or nutritional deficiencies. Psychological and/or physical symptoms often seen with Pica include low IQ, disturbance in behavior, nutritional deficiencies, difficulties in social interactions, lead poisoning, malnutrition and human intestinal worm infestations.

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    References

    National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disorders http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml

    Cleveland Clinic: Eating Disorders http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/eating_disorder/hic_food_addiction.aspx

    Manitoba Health: Eating Disorders http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/mh/eatingdisorders/index.html

    Mirror-Mirror: Types of eating disorders http://www.mirror-mirror.org/types-of-eating-disorders.htm

    Health Hype: Different types of eating disorders http://www.healthhype.com/different-types-of-eating-disorders.html

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