What Is an Eating Disorder? 4 Types and Their Symptoms

Heather Campbell
 min read

What is an eating disorder and how to deal with it?

What Is an Eating Disorder? 4 Types and Their SymptomsIt’s hard to discuss beauty ideals and body positivity without bringing up eating disorders. However, the association between body positivity and eating disorders is often made without always being justified.

As a whole there are four types of eating disorders: bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, orthorexia nervosa, and binge eating. An eating disorder occurs when there is an uneasy relationship with food and an irrational fear of weight gain, and can affect all sexes from all walks of life.

In reality, eating disorders are a jumble of things and thus cannot be easily categorized.

For example, it is often stated that most fashion models are all anorexic.

This woeful statement is incorrect and discriminatory for anyone who naturally has a sharper physique.

Thus, with such views, one presents eating disorders too simplistically and suddenly offends a large group of people. And that, of course, is an unfortunate thing to happen.

What is an eating disorder? Introduction

The topic of anorexia is hot in the press, on TV, and on social media. The stereotypical images of mostly skinny-dipping women are exciting material for the media (because they are polarizing and inflammatory).

We like to talk, discuss and write about it. Everyone has their opinion about it without often really understanding what exactly the disease picture is.

That’s why we’ll go into the details of eating disorders below!

What is an eating disorder exactly?

An eating disorder is a mental illness in which the patient builds up a troubled relationship with food, often with a distorted view of their body and a great fear of gaining weight.

Eating disorders occur in all walks of life, both boys and girls. And although the vast majority (about 9 out of 10) of patients are female, men should not be forgotten here either.

The most commonly known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. But in addition, you also have relatively new types of eating disorders such as binge eating and orthorexia nervosa (although the latter is not yet officially recognized).

Below, we cover these 4 types of eating disorders in detail:

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a specific eating disorder that often begins with dieting and experiencing the urge to be thin. But at some point, a loss of control crops up and eating attacks occur.

After those eating attacks, vomiting or laxatives are often resorted to regain control of the situation…

Usually, a build-up of tension becomes untenable and only finds its release in organized overeating and significant binge eating at night.

Bulimia nervosa is difficult to detect in practice because patients usually have a stable weight that is not immediately problematic to bystanders.

In addition, their sense of shame is often remarkably high. It feels like admitting weakness, something most of us avoids.

The eating pattern of a bulimia nervosa patient is usually completely messed up, and hunger and satiety feelings gradually become entirely unrecognizable.

Bulimia patients eventually become trapped in a downward spiral of confusion, agitation, melancholy, social isolation, low body image, and self-image.

Anorexia nervosa

In anorexia nervosa, we see avoidance behavior toward food and obsessive vigilance over calorie intake. Often anorexia is also accompanied by excessive exercise and the use of laxatives or vomiting.

As a result, weight decreases at a steep rate, and there is an increasing danger of becoming underweight. However, this happens systematically, so this eating disorder is often not identified and picked up until a later stage.

Behavioral problems also occur, causing social life to shrink and reducing contact with friends.

Losing weight gives anorexia nervosa patients a superior sense of control. This gives them a foothold in their daily lives, which often feel erratic and turbulent.

As this eating disorder progresses, dejection and aimlessness often surface.

Most anorexia patients are immensely demanding of themselves and are often perfectionists. Unachieved goals, failures, and criticism (justified or not) come hard and are perceived as a rock-solid defeat of their person.

Anorexia nervosa versus bulimia nervosa

With anorexia nervosa, one often pictures a skeletal figure, and with bulimia nervosa, one thinks more of obese individuals.

But this is too brief, and it is incorrect to make this distinction. In certain cases, a person with an eating disorder may not be able to be counted simply as belonging to one of these two groups.

It usually involves girls or boys obsessed with losing weight, combining one-sided eating with intensive exercise.

But then, along the way, they experience a sense of sin and suddenly experience binge eating, which they often go on to compensate with laxatives and possibly vomiting.

These young people often do not realize the seriousness of their situation. They thus will not immediately reach out for help.

Orthorexia nervosa

This type of eating disorder is a relatively new type that comes from wanting to eat too healthy.

Because even eating too healthy can turn in the wrong direction. And when that happens, that’s orthorexia nervosa.

Often this compulsive eating disorder is very difficult to recognize, masked by very innocent healthy food choices…

Choosing a healthy diet is a wise and right choice… But it should not become an unhealthy obsession because there should be enough balance.

After all, being healthy also means finding balance in terms of the food on your plate. Therefore, you should preferably still eat fats, eggs, desserts, and the like from time to time.

A person with orthorexia nervosa avoids the wrong foods at all times and feels anxious and guilty if they were consumed anyway.

Although this is not always the case, orthorexia nervosa patients sometimes hide behind vegetarianism or veganism.

Opting for this meatless eating style may come from numerous scientific studies showing that it is effectively healthier, more ethical, and more ecological, and that can only be applauded!

But when it becomes too much of an obsession, it goes in the wrong direction.

In any case, most vegetarians are just healthy, but they are at least 3 times more likely to face eating disorders.

By the way, the current mentality among marketers and in the media encourages orthorexia nervosa. Often the angle of super-healthy is used to create hypes and market products.

And so, certain marketers and media contribute to the fear of consuming much-needed fats, for example.

Binge eating

Binge eating actually involves a binge eating disorder.

We all experience compulsive eating to a greater or lesser degree without listening closely to our body’s signals. So this certainly doesn’t need to be dramatized right away.

But binge eating does involve a severe form of continuous binge eating. These binges are not compensated for. So this means that a binge eating patient will not vomit, diet, or use laxatives after the binge.

Consequently, binge eating is often accompanied by obesity and numerous (severe) medical problems.

What is an eating disorder? Conclusion

Because every person with an eating disorder has a different story, no one can be labeled.

What may work and help one person may not work well for another.

In most cases, it’s about young people who want to move forward in their growth process but experience turbulence and get into a rut regarding self-love and eating behaviors, with potentially dire consequences for their future.

In most cases, these are individuals looking for something to hold on to, and quasi no one purposefully chooses to develop an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are severe and need to be treated appropriately and professionally.

There are several psychological, biological and social triggering factors for the development of eating disorders. Read more in our article about causes and triggers of eating disorders.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More