The information provided here is for educational purposes. Address individual medical or psychological concerns with your healthcare provider.
The term “eating disorder” (ED) encompasses a range of unhealthy behaviors that center on an individual’s relationship to food, exercise, and body. The official diagnostic classification system (DSM-5) lists six distinct diagnoses. On this page you will find a description of each. Eating Disorders are Tough! will tell you what makes them so difficult to beat.
Of the six diagnoses, the most commonly occurring are Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, and Anorexia Nervosa, all of which are discussed in detail here. The remaining disorders are described briefly at the bottom of this page.
At the heart of almost every case of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder is over-emphasis placed on the importance of shape, weight, and their control. It is pursuit of this control that drives the individual to engage in behaviors that ultimately interfere with both physical and mental health.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
- Frequent episodes of binge eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar circumstance, and feeling a sense of lack of control over the episode.
- During the binge episodes, the person is not necessarily hungry, tends to eat quickly, and does not stop until uncomfortably full. The person also tends to binge when alone due to embarrassment about the behavior, and often feels self-disgust, guilt, and depression afterward.
In addition to overweight and obesity, BED is often accompanied by depression and poor self-esteem.
Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating as described above under BED.
- Following the binge, the individual engages in unhealthy efforts to negate the food intake (e.g., vomiting, excessive exercise, abuse of laxatives, drugs, etc.).
- The individual’s self-esteem is exceedingly influenced by body shape and weight.
- Physically, BN affects multiple body systems. It can cause dangerous changes to metabolism and reproductive health, create a risk for seizures and heart attacks, destroy teeth while irritating the throat and swelling the neck, and results in gastrointestinal distress and bloating.
- Psychologically, the person with BN tends to be pre-occupied with thoughts about food and weight to a degree that often interferes with multiple life activities. BN often co-occurs with depression and anxiety, as well as impulse control problems such as substance abuse.
- Socially, BN makes it difficult to participate in activities for fear of overeating or being prevented from purging after eating. Due to the secretive nature of BN behavior, sufferers often become socially isolated.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
- Food restriction leading to a significantly low body weight, sudden loss of a significant amount of weight, or failure to gain appropriately if still a growing child.
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
- Self-esteem is exceedingly influenced by body shape and weight. Further, the individual with AN often has a distorted sense of what his or her body looks like—failing to see the degree of underweight that is evident to others.
Some people with AN punctuate food restriction with bouts of binge eating and purging. The longer a person has AN, the more likely it is that a binge-purge pattern will develop.
- Physically, AN affects almost every body system ranging from loss of brain and heart tissue, to breakdown of the digestive system, to loss of hair and cracked fingernails. AN kills more people than all other mental disorders.
- Psychologically, the person with AN ends up focused on weight and food to the exclusion of most other things. Obsessed by the fear of gaining weight, the individual is frequently irritable, depressed, and eventually develops difficulty thinking and remembering things.
- Socially, AN interferes with the ability to maintain satisfying relationships. Ultimately, the individual is quite isolated.
The three eating disorders that do not involve body image distress and are less common:
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder—Lack of interest in eating, or avoidance based on the sensory qualities of food or irrational concerns about aversive consequences of eating. These concerns lead to a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs.
Pica—Persistent eating of non-nutritive, non-food substances (e.g., dirt, paper).
Rumination Disorder—Repeated regurgitation of food that is either re-swallowed or spit out.
For more on eating disorders
The following websites are very informative:
- Academy of Eating Disorders
- American Psychiatric Association
- National Eating Disorders Association
- National Institute of Mental Health