Eating disorders can be far more complex conditions than many realize.

The seriousness of eating disorders cannot be overstated, nor can the inextricable link with a person’s mental health. An eating disorder is not a diet or a choice that has been made with a healthy physical goal in mind. It is, instead, a multifaceted illness that can lead to a severe impact on a person’s physical, emotional and mental well-being.

We take a closer look at how eating disorders can present common eating disorders and their signs and symptoms, risk factors for eating disorders, and potential treatments one might undergo when seeking recovery.

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Common eating disorders

Eating disorders do not present in one way, and a person may suffer from one eating disorder or different forms of eating disorders in combination. These are the most common types of eating disorders that may be encountered

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is perhaps one of the most well-known and widely recognized eating disorders. This is especially true regarding the public understanding of eating disorders, as many media portrayals focus on anorexia nervosa, otherwise known as anorexia. Those suffering from anorexia nervosa may fall under two subtypes, which present differently. However, in both cases, you may notice that the person seems fixated on weight and the foods they eat and view themselves as overweight even when they are not and may be significantly underweight.

Subtypes of anorexia nervosa

The first subtype of anorexia nervosa is restrictive. The restrictive subtype presents mainly as food restriction – both in the amount and variety of food eaten. They may avoid eating altogether or only eat tiny amounts of food. The second subtype is binge-purge. Those with binge-purge anorexia nervosa are also likely to restrict the amount eaten and also potentially the kinds of food consumed. However, they may also experience binge eating, which can lead to purging. This is when a person consumes a large quantity of food quickly. After this, they may force themselves to vomit or use amenorrhea is likely, and infertility in all anorexia nervosa sufferers is also common.

Over time, osteoporosis (bone thinning) takes place, and, in the worst cases, severe effects such as organ failure and damage to the brain and heart can happen.

Bulimia nervosa

Another common type of eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. This condition shares some similarities with anorexia nervosa, but bulimia nervosa is more closely linked to a cycle of binging and purging. Those with bulimia nervosa will regularly consume uncomfortably large amounts, experiencing feeling out of control. They will then force themselves to somehow purge the food or ‘work it off’. This can include periods of fasting followed by binging, extreme exercise, or vomiting. The use of laxatives may also occur. Any combination of these behaviors may happen.

Unlike anorexia nervosa, where sufferers are usually very underweight, those with bulimia nervosa may be any weight.

Symptoms of bulimia nervosa

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa are very medically complex. Because sufferers can be overweight, underweight, or considered normal, these symptoms are often the most evident signs of bulimia nervosa.

Those with bulimia nervosa can suffer from various medical issues resulting from vomiting or using laxatives, such as having a consistently sore throat and swollen glands in their neck. Over time, stomach acid wears away tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay.

Increased stomach issues, such as acid reflux, are also likely, and the intestines can become inflamed. Purging also leads to dehydration and a lack of necessary electrolytes. In extreme cases, this can result in a stroke, heart issues, and even death.

Binge-eating disorder

Binge-eating disorder is not the same as bulimia nervosa, though it is similar. With binge-eating disorder, people consume vast quantities of food and will not purge as standard. They will not try to fast, restrict, purge or exercise the food out of their systems. Due to this, those who experience binge-eating disorder are more likely to be in adulthood, and ARFID sufferers may be unable to eat enough to lead everyday, functional lives.

Symptoms of ARFID

Symptoms of ARFID can be easy to spot in childhood, though they can be confused with picky eating. In children and adults, ARFID can present as a lack of interest in eating or food. Sufferers may lack appetite, and when they eat, they restrict the food eaten to minimal food groups. The amount of food eaten may also be smaller than usual. This can be progressive, with the type of foods eaten becoming less and less over time.

As ARFID continues, physical symptoms such as stomach pain or upset stomach are common.

Risk factors for eating disorders

No matter which type of eating disorder you are looking at, they can impact all demographics. People of any age, gender, race, or weight can suffer from an eating disorder. While we primarily associate eating disorders with those in their teens or early adulthood, the truth is that they can occur at any time and be caused by various factors. These factors can include a person’s genetics, personal history, psychology, and social experiences. There are also biological factors to consider.
There is no one reason or type of person that eating disorders impact, making detecting and treating them even more challenging.

Understanding eating disorders

Current research into eating disorders seeks to better understand and support those suffering from this form of mental illness. This CBT may help identify damaging or incorrect thought patterns so that they may be addressed and corrected.

Medical care

Medical intervention is also necessary for those with eating disorders. Many health complications can occur from eating disorders, and sufferers may also have substance abuse issues. The physical health of those with eating disorders should be assessed and monitored regularly to track progress.

Nutritional counseling

Developing a better relationship with food can be a big part of eating disorder recovery. A nutritional counselor can support an increased understanding of healthy eating and exploring a variety of foods. This can be highly beneficial for those who have restricted their eating or those suffering from ARFID.


Some medications may benefit those with eating disorders, especially when they also suffer from comorbid disorders. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, or mood stabilizing medication can support psychotherapy and help people to feel more in control of their emotions and thoughts.

Understanding different types and subtypes of eating disorders can be vital in recognizing the symptoms and signs and helping sufferers. This is a form of mental illness that can be challenging to detect and even more difficult to treat. However, with the proper education and tools, it is possible to aid those with eating disorders in their recovery to move forward more healthily.