What is a eating disorder?

Eating disorders are psychological problems marked by significant and ongoing disturbances in eating patterns and the uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that go along with them. They can be extremely severe conditions that have an impact on social, psychological, and physical function. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restricted food intake disorder, pica and rumination disorder are examples of several eating disorders. Eating disorders are frequently linked to obsessions with food, weight, or shape, or with eating anxiety or the negative effects of consuming certain foods.

What causes eating disorders?

Many times it is unclear what specifically causes eating problems. There may be a variety of causes, similar to other mental diseases, including:Biological and genetic factors: Genes in some people may put them at higher risk of having eating problems. Eating disorders may be influenced by biological factors, such as alterations in brain chemistry. Mental and emotional well-being: Psychological and emotional issues may be a factor in eating disorders in those who have them. They might struggle with relationships, perfectionism, impulsivity, and low self-esteem.

What are the types of eating disorders?


This is a potentially fatal eating disorder. It is characterized by an unusually low body weight, a strong fear of gaining weight, and a distorted image of weight or shape. People who suffer with anorexia make tremendous efforts to maintain their weight and shape, which frequently adversely affects their health and daily activities. When you have anorexia, you severely restrict your calorie/ food intake or employ alternative weight-loss strategies, such as excessive exercise, the use of laxatives or other diet supplements, or vomiting right after eating. Some symptoms include:

  • Restricting the amount of food you eat and also restricting your intake of certain foods
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviors to avoid gaining weight, despite being underweight
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
  • A heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem
  • A distorted body image, including denial of being seriously underweight

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa, often known as bulimia, is a serious eating disorder that may be life-threatening. Bulimia causes binge and purge episodes where the person feels like they have no control over their food. The daytime eating restrictions that are common among persons with bulimia frequently result in increased binge eating and purging. During the binge eating episodes, you frequently consume a lot of food quickly and then try to burn off the excess calories in undesirable ways. During the purging part of the episode, you might force yourself to vomit, overexert yourself when working out, or use other techniques, like laxatives, to get rid of the calories out of fear of feeling guilty, ashamed, and gaining weight as a result of overeating.

Persons with bulimia are highly concerned with their weight and physical appearance, and may harshly and critically evaluate their self for perceived defects. They can be slightly overweight or at a typical weight.
The following are typical signs of bulimia nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating with a feeling of lack of control
  • Recurrent episodes of inappropriate purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Self-esteem overly influenced by body shape and weight
  • A fear of gaining weight, despite having a typical weight

Rumination Disorder

Repeatedly and persistently regurgitating food (bringing up food in your mouth) after eating is a symptom of rumination disorder, which is not related to a medical illness or another eating disorder such anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. Without feeling queasy or gagging, food is brought back up into the mouth, and regurgitation may not be deliberate. Regurgitated food may occasionally be re-chewed, reabsorbed, or spit out.

If the food is spit out or if the person eats much less to stop the behavior, the problem may cause malnutrition. Rumination disorder may be more prevalent in young children or those who have an intellectual disability.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

Due to lack of interest in food, avoidance of food with particular sensory qualities, such as color, texture, smell, or taste, or worry about the results of eating, such as choking fear, you fail to achieve your basic daily nutritional requirements. Food is not avoided out of concern for putting on weight. In addition to substantial weight loss or failure to gain weight in childhood, the disease can lead to dietary deficiencies that may have negative health effects. Some symptoms include:

  • Avoidance or restriction of food intake that prevents the person from eating enough calories or nutrients
  • Eating habits that interfere with typical social functions, such as eating with others
  • Weight loss or poor development for age and height
  • Nutrient deficiencies or dependence on supplements or tube feeding

Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder suffer periods of binge eating in which they consume huge amounts of food in a short period of time, feel as though they have no control over their eating, and are distressed by the activity. This is similar to bulimia nervosa. But unlike those who have bulimia nervosa, they don’t frequently resort to compensatory measures like fasting, exercising, or abusing laxatives to get rid of the food. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular illnesses are just a few of the major health consequences that can result from binge eating, which is a persistent problem.
Common symptoms include:

  • Eating large amounts of food rapidly, in secret, and until uncomfortably full, despite not feeling hungry
  • Feeling a lack of control during episodes of binge eating
  • Feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust, or guilt, when thinking about the binge eating behavior
  • No use of purging behaviors, such as calorie restriction, vomiting, excessive exercise, or laxative or diuretic use, to compensate for the binge eating


When someone has an eating disorder called pica, they may consume items that are not recognized to be food and do not have any nutritional value.

People who suffer from pica have a craving for non-food items including ice, dirt, chalk, soap, paper, hair, linen, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent or cornstarch.

Pica can happen to adults, kids, and teenagers. People with problems that interfere with daily functioning, such as intellectual disabilities, developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder, and mental health conditions like schizophrenia, are the ones who are most likely to experience it.

A higher risk of poisoning, infections, gut injuries, and nutritional deficits may exist in people with pica. Pica might be lethal, depending on what you ate. However, in order for the condition to be classified as pica, non-food items must be consumed.

How can you identify an eating disorder?

If you have an eating issue, recognizing it and getting help sooner will increase your chances of healing. Knowing the warning signals and symptoms can assist you in determining whether you require assistance.

Not everyone will exhibit each symptom at the same time, however specific behaviors, such as:

  • Behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control over food are becoming primary concerns above your health
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fats, grams, and dieting at the risk of your health
  • Refusal to eat certain foods
  • Discomfort with eating around others
  • Food rituals (not allowing foods to touch, eating only particular food groups)
  • Skipping meals or eating only small portions
  • Frequent dieting
  • Extreme concern with body size, shape, and appearance; frequently to the point of disrupting your life
  • Frequently checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
  • Extreme mood swings

When to see a doctor

An eating disorder can be difficult to manage or overcome by yourself. Eating disorders can virtually take over your life. If you’re experiencing any of these problems, or if you think you may have an eating disorder, seek medical help. Contact your nearest primary care physician or psychiatrist.