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What are Eating Disorders?

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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

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

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.


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.

Binge Eating Disorders

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.

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Rumination Disorder

Rumination syndrome (also known as rumination disorder or merycism) is a feeding and eating disorder in which undigested food comes back up from a person’s stomach into his or her mouth (regurgitation). Once the food is back in the mouth, the person may chew it and swallow it again, or spit it out. This behavior usually occurs after every meal, and may appear effortless. Rumination may follow a sensation of burping/belching and typically does not involve nausea or retching. In rumination, the regurgitated food does not tend to taste sour or bitter because it has not had time to fully mix with stomach acid and be digested.
This act of regurgitation (throwing up) is a reflex action that can be a learned and intentional act or can be unintentional. People who have rumination syndrome are not regurgitating food because of a stomach illness or because they feel sick.

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