Eating disorders cause disruption or disturbances in eating patterns and related thoughts and behaviours, causing distress to one’s mental and physical health. They are serious but treatable physical and mental illnesses that can impact people irrespective of their gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, body shape, and weight. While the causes of eating disorders are not fully clear, the growing consensus is that they consist of a range of psychological, biological and sociocultural factors. To have an eating disorder is not a conscious choice or something one can decide to start or stop doing.
While suffering from an eating disorder, they themselves often do not understand or see the severity of it. Sometimes they don’t have the awareness or understanding of the subject; sometimes they feel shame or guilt attached to talking about it, which makes it harder for them to seek help. However, early intervention and treatment accelerates recovery, reduces symptoms and improves the likelihood of staying free of the eating disorder.
Mental health diagnoses are evolving, but they don’t always encompass every person’s feelings accurately. However, they are helpful in understanding the nature of distress; the diagnoses can be used as benchmarks to provide evidence based effective treatment.
If your relationship with food or body image feels stressful to you regardless of whether you fit into any diagnostic criteria or not, you deserve to get support and help. Research shows that many people with subclinical eating disorders will go on to develop full eating disorders, and so, early intervention can be helpful.
Eating disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual used to diagnose psychiatric disorders by mental health practitioners, include the following disorders. All explanations below are in line with the diagnostic criteria of DSM V.
Anorexia nervosa involves a restricted food intake, which leads to lower-than-expected body weight, fear of weight gain, and disturbance in body image. In severe cases, it can cause significant mental distress, malnutrition, anaemia, irregular periods, and other physical illnesses. There are two subtypes of Anorexia Nervosa based on symptoms –the Restricting subtype and the Binge-Purge subtype.
Bulimia nervosa involves recurrent episodes of binge eating, where one eats a large amount of food in a short period of time and a sense of lack of control while the binge occurs. This is followed by compensatory behaviours – i.e., behaviours designed to make up for the calories consumed. These behaviours may include vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, and laxative or diuretics use.
Binge Eating Disorder?
Binge eating disorder, has been recently recognised as an eating disorder, and is the most common eating disorder, affecting approximately 2-3% of people. It involves repeated episodes of binge eating at least once a week where symptoms have lasted for at least the last 3 months. A binge is defined as the consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. People bingeing often do so in private and can have feelings of guilt or disgust after the binge is complete. When you have Binge eating disorder, there is no recurrent use of compensatory behaviour, such as excessive exercise, vomiting, or use of laxatives.
Binge Eating Disorder
Other Specified Feeding
or Eating Disorder
Other specified feeding and eating disorders encompass a broad range of eating problems that cause significant distress and impairment in occupational, social, or other important areas of daily functioning but don’t fall under the formal diagnosis for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. People diagnosed with OSFED might often feel their feelings were invalidated or that they don’t deserve help, which is not true. OSFED can be as serious as other eating disorders and also include subclinical eating disorders.
Examples of OSFED include:
Atypical Anorexia Nervosa occurs when one has the symptoms of anorexia including significant weight loss, but the weight is currently at or above a normal range.
Binge Eating Disorder with binges that are not as frequent or do not happen over a long period as required for it to be formally diagnosed.
Bulimia Nervosa that is not as frequent or where the symptoms have not persisted for as long as needed for the formal diagnosis.
Purging Disorder occurs when someone vomits in the absence of binge eating.
Night Eating Syndrome occurs when a person consumes at least one – fourth of their daily intake after dinner.
Rumination Disorder consists of repeated regurgitation of food for a period of least one month. This includes re-chewing, re-swallowing or spitting out food.
Pica involves eating materials that have negligible nutritional value over a time period of at least 1 month. Someone struggling with pica might eat items like ice, clay, soil or paper.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is an eating disturbance that keeps people from meeting their nutritional needs. People dealing with ARFID may experience noticeable weight loss, dependence on nutritional supplements, impact on their psychosocial functioning or nutritional deficiencies.