The Types of Eating Disorders

types of eating disorders

This is the informational week of blogging it seems, but I run across a lot of people that are confused about the different types of eating disorders and how they’re diagnosed. I decided to put together a list of the specific eating disorders I treat in my counseling office.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a serious mental health illness characterized by starvation, body image disturbance, and often extreme weight loss.

Someone with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) will:

  • Have a significantly low body weight due to eating an inadequate amount of food, and will be unable to appreciate the severity of the situation
  • Be hyper-focused on his/her weight, extremely fearful of gaining weight, and take extreme measures to try and prevent any weight gain
  • Measure self-esteem and self-worth based on his/her body image

There are 2 types of Anorexia: binging/purging type and restricting type

Binging/purging type of Anorexia is when a person restricts food in all the ways listed above, but between episodes of restricting, he/she has engaged in either binging or purging behaviors (read more about purging in the next section, Bulimia)

Restricting type of Anorexia is more commonly recognized than the binging/purging type. This type of AN is diagnosed when a person limits the amount of food or calories they consume and does not engage in binging or purging behaviors.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is a scary eating disorder since its severity is often misunderstood. Since the person does not typically lose weight, it often goes unnoticed.

Due to an electrolyte imbalance from self-induced vomiting, Bulimia can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular complications

Bulimia is characterized by episodes of binge-eating, followed by inappropriate compensatory measures. Inappropriate compensatory measures are methods the person will use to rid his/her body of the calories, in an attempt not to gain weight.

Self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications, extreme exercise, and fasting are examples of the ways a person with Bulimia will attempt to counteract the binge.

As with a person with Anorexia, someone with Bulimia measures self-esteem and self-worth based on his/her body image.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It is estimated that 3.5% of women and 2% of men suffer from BED.

Binge-Eating Disorder did not officially become a diagnosable eating disorder until 2013

Binge-Eating Disorder is not the same thing as overeating. BED is misunderstood, because people equate it to the way most of us eat on Thanksgiving.

The main difference between BED and over-eating is feeling out of control, as in unable to stop eating or control what is being eaten.

A person with Binge-Eating Disorder will have recurrent episodes of binging, feel distressed over the binge-eating, not have compensatory measures (like purging), and at least 3 of the following criteria:

  • Eat faster than normal
  • Eat to the point of being uncomfortably full
  • Eat even when not hungry
  • Eat alone due to embarrassment
  • Deal with guilt, shame, and disgust of oneself after binge episodes

Treatment for Binge-Eating Disorder has been very successful.

Treatment for BED does not have to include a behavioral weight management system, such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.

Learning of intuitive eating strategies and dealing with the underlying issues associated with the binges is a first step in treating BED.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

This eating disorder diagnosis, otherwise referred to as OSFED, is used when a person suffers from an eating disorder that does not meet all of the criteria of Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge-Eating Disorder.

Someone who restricts the amount of food consumed, puts undue concern on weight and body image, but whose weight is not below what is considered normal would be diagnosed with OSFED. Similarly, a person who meets all of the criteria for Binge-Eating Disorder or Bulimia, but engages in the behaviors less frequently than required for the diagnoses would be placed in this group.

Since eating disorders are potentially life-threatening mental health issues, due to both the medical and physiological complications, an early intervention is incredibly important. You can learn some of the warning signs of an eating disorder here.

If you or someone you love is battling an eating disorder or showing warning signs, and you would like to set up an appointment to begin on the road to recovery, contact me here to set up a free 15-minute consultation. I would like to be a part of your journey to recovery. My office is in Vancouver, a stone's throw from Portland. 

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Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.