What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are emotional problems related to worries about eating, body shape and weight. People affected by eating disorders tend to be very preoccupied with their eating and exercising habits, and how these affect their body.
Some of the general warning signs of an eating disorder are:
- Excessive worrying about body image and weight
- Strong fear of weight gain
- Belief that being thin will solve one’s problems
- Excessive dieting or very restrictive eating patterns
- Purging (getting rid of food by use of vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or exercise etc.)
- Binges, in which one eats an excessive amount of food, accompanied by a feeling of loss of control over eating
- Strict or excessive exercise
- Very restrictive eating patterns e.g. reducing the amount of food eaten to unhealthy levels, or only eating protein or “healthy” foods
- Poor body image
- Letting food and eating overshadow all other activities
Common eating disorder types include anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. Other patterns of unhealthy eating include orthorexia as well as other eating disorders that don’t fit neatly into any of the standard categories.
People with anorexia find their thoughts focus on being thin and restricting the food they eat. They may restrict eating, over-exercise, use appetite suppressants, make themselves vomit, use laxatives or anything else they can think of to achieve weight loss. Someone with anorexia will spend a large part of their day thinking about losing weight and ways to manage it. They also commonly see themselves as heavier than they are in reality.
Bulimia involves a cycle of bingeing (eating a higher than normal quantity of food while feeling a loss of control), followed by attempts to make up for the binge and to prevent weight gain. This compensatory behaviour generally involves self-induced vomiting but can include use of laxatives, fasting, vigorous exercise etc. Some bulimics may only binge and purge once in a while, while others will do so several times a day. Someone suffering from bulimia also has a pre-occupation with their weight and body shape. Someone with bulima is not necessarily underweight and may have a normal or above-normal weight with frequent changes in weight.
Someone with binge-eating disorder experiences repeated episodes of overeating, along with feelings of loss of control over the eating. These binges are not followed with inappropriate measures to control weight. Binge-eaters feels distress about over-eating and are concerned about the effects of bingeing on his/her weight and body shape. Binge-eating disorder is the most commonly found eating issue, but tends not to receive as much attention as some of the other disorders.
Although not an official diagnosis, orthorexia is often used to refer to a disorder where someone is fixated on eating “correctly”, to an extent where it negatively affects other areas of their life. Typical examples include avoiding carbs, unhealthy fats, sugar or salt, or avoiding artificial additives, pesticides or genetic modification. These strict beliefs and rules about what can be eaten start to impact on other areas of their life, such as social interactions and relationships.
Other eating disorders
Many people experience patterns of disordered eating that don’t quite fit into the official categories, but do cause distress and impact on daily life. In some cases, people don’t meet the official diagnostic categories for anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating, as laid out in the DSM-5. Other fairly common eating patterns include: purging disorders, where there is no bingeing behaviour; night eating disorder, where the person eats in the middle of the night or late at night; chewing and spitting disorder, where the person chews the food, but spits it out rather than swallowing it.