understanding the types of eating disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

In recent years, anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating have become more identified and studied than ever before. Reports show that up to 24 million people of all ages and gender suffer from an eating disorder in the US. 


Eating disorders are not about food, but about feelings. Most people develop eating disorders as a way of coping with difficult feelings. At some point, however, eating disorders can take on a life of their own and become so habitual and ingrained that the person now feels powerless to stop the behaviors. 


Therapy can help people to understand and recover from their eating disorders. The therapeutic process helps people develop new ways of coping with stressful situations. They learn to identify feelings and cope in healthier ways. There are also ways to help someone manage the habitual tendencies of the eating disorder.


Types of Eating Disorders:

There are three main types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia

  • Bulimia

  • Binge Eating Disorder


Specific Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

A person who suffers from this disorder is typically characterized by their refusal to maintain a body weight which is consistent with their build, age and height. The individual usually experiences an intense and overwhelming fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. This fear is regardless of the person's actual weight, and will often continue even when the person is near death from starvation. It is related to a person's poor self-image, which is also a symptom of this disorder. The individual suffering from this disorder believes that their body weight, shape and size is directly related to how good they feel about themselves and their worth as a human being. Persons with this disorder often deny the seriousness of their condition and can not objectively evaluate their own weight.


There are two types of anorexia nervosa:

  • Restricting type -- The person restricts their food intake on their own and does not engage in binge-eating or purging behavior.

  • Binge eating/purging type -- The person self-induces vomiting or misuses laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.


Specific Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa:

This disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, occurring at least once a week for a minimum of three months, which consists of:

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances

  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating


Individuals who suffer from this disorder often engage in behavior in order to try and prevent themselves from gaining any weight. This behavior may include such things as self-induced vomiting; overusing laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; refusing to eat (fasting); or excessive exercise.


Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise. A person's self-image is usually directly correlated with their weight, with a great deal of attention focused on how their body looks.


There are two types of bulimia nervosa:

  • Purging Type: -- The person regularly engages in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas

  • Non-purging Type: -- The person has used other inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as fasting or excessive exercise, but has not regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas


A person who suffers from this disorder can have it go undetected for years, because the person's body weight will often remain normal. "Binging" and "purging" behavior is often done in secret and with a great deal of shame attached to the behavior. It is also the more common eating disorder.


Specific Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder:

Most people overeat from time to time, and many people feel they frequently eat more than they should. Eating large amounts of food, however, does not mean that a person has binge eating disorder. Criteria states that if the binge eating episodes occur at least once a week for three months, binge eating disorder can be diagnosed. Most people with serious binge eating problems have:

  • Frequent episodes of eating what others would consider an abnormally large amount of food.

  • Frequent feelings of being unable to control what or how much is being eaten.

  • Several of these behaviors or feelings:

    Eating much more rapidly than usual.

    Eating until uncomfortably full.

    Eating large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry.

    Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten.

    Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating.





Image by Mark Harpur