There are many misconceptions when it comes to eating disorders (sometimes abbreviated to EDs). 

Many believe that there are only two types of eating disorders (anorexia or bulimia) and that it only affects people who are insecure about their bodies. Some people may think that eating disorders are not an issue at all and that it’s simply a lifestyle choice.

These misconceptions hurt us all. But they especially hurt those with eating disorders. In this guide, Sierra Vista Hospital hopes to provide clarity and insights on eating disorders. Join us as we explore the different kinds of eating disorders, their symptoms and how they can be treated.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that involve a number of abnormal eating behaviors and patterns. These behaviors range from restricting food intake to binge eating to even purging. Eating disorders are often accompanied by a distorted body image (or body dysmorphia) and intense fear of gaining weight.

Eating disorders are an ongoing issue in the United States. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders are also one of the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opiate overdose.

Although eating disorders are usually associated with young women, they can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. 

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a complex eating disorder characterized by extreme weight loss, body dysmorphia, and an intense fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia often restrict their food intake and may engage in excessive exercise to maintain a low body weight.

While anorexia sometimes begins with the simple choice of dieting and working out, the situation then spirals out of control. People with anorexia nervosa may engage in ‘food rituals’ such as calorie counting, developing rigid eating rules and schedules and even using diuretic drugs to control their weight.

Even when visibly underweight, people affected by anorexia may still perceive themselves as ‘fat.’ They either compulsively continue the cycle of unhealthy behavior or feel powerless to change.

Symptoms of anorexia may include:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Refusal to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image
  • Obsession with food, calories, and weight
  • Excessive exercise
  • Denial of hunger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives. People with bulimia may also engage in excessive exercise or fasting to compensate for their binge eating.

Bulimia nervosa is a vicious cycle of problematic behaviors. Body dysmorphia, low self-esteem and concerns about weight all play an important role in bulimia nervosa. Often, people with bulimia find it difficult to control their emotions. They may resort to binge-eating as a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions. Afterward, however, they are overcome with feelings of guilt and shame – which lead to purging. 

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Binge eating
  • Purging behaviors
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Distorted body image
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Tooth decay
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty managing emotions

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating without purging behaviors. People with binge eating disorder may feel out of control during these episodes and may eat large amounts of food even when not physically hungry.

Similar to bulimia, binge eating may be used as an emotional coping mechanism. Some use it to soothe intense emotions, as a reward  or to distract themselves from difficult situations or memories (such as sexual trauma or abuse).

Symptoms of binge eating disorder may include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • Eating large amounts of food even when not physically hungry
  • Feeling out of control during binge eating episodes
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating
  • Distorted body image
  • Low self-esteem

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), previously known as “selective eating disorder,” is an eating disorder that can impact one’s physical and mental health. It is characterized by a persistent lack of interest in food or an avoidance of certain foods due to sensory issues, fear of choking or a lack of appetite. 

This disorder is common in children and can lead to significant weight loss and nutritional deficiencies. While some amount of “picky eating” is normal in children, parents should remain vigilant if they observe the following symptoms:

  • Lack of interest in food
  • Avoidance of certain foods
  • Fear of choking or vomiting
  • Sensory issues with food (e.g. texture, smell, taste)
  • Significant weight loss
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Difficulty gaining weight
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) is a category of eating disorders that includes symptoms that do not meet the criteria for a specific eating disorder but still cause significant distress or impairment. This category may include disorders such as atypical anorexia nervosa, purging disorder and night eating syndrome.

Symptoms of OSFED may include:

  • Symptoms that do not meet the criteria for specific eating disorders
  • Significant distress or impairment
  • Disordered eating behaviors
  • Distorted body image
  • Low self-esteem

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that require professional treatment. The most effective treatment for eating disorders is a combination of therapy, nutrition counseling and medical care.

Inpatient and outpatient programs 

Eating disorder treatment can be provided in both inpatient and outpatient facilities. Inpatient programs are more intensive and involve individuals staying at a specialized treatment center for a certain period of time. These programs provide 24-hour care and support, allowing for a structured and supervised environment. Inpatient treatment is beneficial for individuals who require a higher level of care, such as those with severe or life-threatening eating disorders.

On the other hand, outpatient programs offer treatment on a part-time basis, enabling people to continue with their daily lives while receiving support and guidance. 

Outpatient treatment is suitable for individuals with less severe eating disorders or those who have completed an inpatient program and are transitioning back to their regular routine. It provides flexibility and allows individuals to receive therapy and support while maintaining their responsibilities and commitments. 

Outpatient Nutrition Counseling

Nutrition counseling is an important part of eating disorder treatment. A registered dietitian can help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and create a meal plan that meets their nutritional needs.

Medical care

Medical care is necessary for individuals with severe eating disorders. It can help address any physical complications that may arise from the disorder, such as malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances and heart problems.

Help Is Available at Sierra Vista Hospital

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that can have serious physical and emotional consequences. By understanding the different types of eating disorders and their symptoms, we can better recognize the signs and seek help for ourselves or our loved ones. 

Sierra Vista Hospital, located in Sacramento, California, is here for your mental and behavioral health needs. We provide inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services to adults and adolescents seeking improved mental well-being. Our individualized treatment plans aim to meet each person’s needs and challenges.

Learn more about how we can help by giving us a call at 916-273-4300 or get in contact with us by using this form.