Identifying 6 most prevalent eating disorders: A guide to recognizing symptoms

Eating disorders involve abnormal eating habits and behaviors that can lead to serious health problems.


Raunak Jain

Updated: Dec 28, 2022, 10:56 AM IST

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Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have serious physical and psychological consequences. They often involve abnormal eating habits and behaviors that can interfere with a person's ability to maintain a healthy weight and can lead to serious health problems. There are several different types of eating disorders, and understanding the symptoms of each can help you recognize when someone you know might be struggling with one.

Anorexia nervosa: This is an eating disorder characterized by extreme restriction of food intake and an intense fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia often have a distorted body image and see themselves as much heavier than they really are. Symptoms may include extreme weight loss, refusal to maintain a normal weight, and an obsession with counting calories and fat grams.

Bulimia nervosa: This eating disorder is characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by purging, which can take the form of self-induced vomiting, overuse of laxatives or diuretics, or excessive exercise. People with bulimia may feel a lack of control over their eating habits and may go to great lengths to hide their behavior. Symptoms may include frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, swollen salivary glands, and tooth decay due to stomach acid.

Binge eating disorder: This eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of uncontrolled, rapid food consumption. People with binge eating disorder may feel a lack of control over their eating habits and may eat large amounts of food even when they are not hungry. Symptoms may include eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, feeling embarrassed or ashamed about one's eating habits, and feeling a sense of hopelessness or despair about one's weight.

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Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID): This disorder is characterized by a lack of interest in food or a refusal to eat certain types of food due to a dislike of the texture, smell, or taste. People with ARFID may have difficulty gaining weight and may be at risk for malnutrition. Symptoms may include a low weight for one's age, a limited range of foods consumed, and difficulty eating in social situations.

Pica: This disorder is characterized by the persistent craving and eating of non-food items, such as dirt, paint chips, or paper. Pica is often associated with iron deficiency or other nutritional deficiencies, and it can lead to serious health problems. Symptoms may include the presence of non-food items in the stool and damage to the teeth and digestive system.

Rumination disorder: This disorder is characterized by the repetitive spitting up and re-chewing of food. People with rumination disorder may spit up food shortly after eating and then re-chew and swallow it, or they may spit up food and discard it. Rumination disorder can lead to malnutrition and weight loss, and it is often associated with anxiety and depression. Symptoms may include spitting up food shortly after eating, discomfort or pain in the chest or abdomen, and weight loss.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Eating disorders can be treated with a combination of therapy, nutrition counseling, and medication, and the sooner treatment is started, the better the chances of a full recovery.

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