Eating Disorders: Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

In a society where everyone seemingly feels like the best way to be fit is to be thin, the adoption of different feeding patterns has led to malnutrition in so many individuals. Gradually,  people are becoming obsessed with calories, body shapes, and affirmations resulting in diverse eating disorders.

Eating disorders include a group of mental/psychological conditions that are characterized by an obsession with certain feeding behaviors which usually result from an unhealthy relationship with food and poor self-image.

Possible causes

Several factors might lead to the development of eating disorders; factors like personality traits, genetics (ongoing research), brain biology, and cultural ideas. Other potential causes might include heavy pressure to be thin either from exposure to media or cultural ideologies.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa

People with this disorder obsess about what they eat and their weight. Anorexia nervosa develops during adolescence or young childhood and tends to be more prevalent in women than men. People with this disorder often have the following characteristics:

  • Trying to maintain a below-normal weight through starvation or too much exercise,
  • Being overtly underweight when compared to people within the same age group
  • Sticking to restricted eating patterns
  • Fear of gaining weight despite being underweight
  • a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
  • self-esteem gradually relates to body weight and size


  • Whole-body: dehydration, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, feeling cold, low blood pressure, low body temperature, osteoporosis, or water-electrolyte imbalance
  • Behavioural: binge eating, compulsive behavior, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or social isolation
  • Weight: extreme weight loss and thinness, underweight, or weight loss
  • Mood: anxiety, apprehension, or guilt
  • Gastrointestinal: constipation or vomiting
  • Menstrual: absence of menstruation or irregular menstruation
  • Developmental: delayed puberty or slow growth

Other common symptoms include brittle nails, bruising, depression, dieting, dry hair, dry skin, headache, sensitivity to cold, or slow heart rate.

Bulimia nervosa

People affected by Bulimia Nervosa tend to overeat from binging on food secretly and later try to get rid of the food through induced vomiting, diet pills (laxatives to help them purge), fasting, exercise, or even a combination of all. People with bulimia might be slightly underweight or of normal weight. Sometimes, they might be overweight.


  • Behavioural: binge eating, compulsive behavior, impulsivity, lack of restraint, self-harm, or vomiting after overeating
  • Whole-body: dehydration, fatigue, food aversion, hunger, or water-electrolyte imbalance
  • Mood: anxiety, general discontent, poor self-esteem guilt, depression, or mood swings
  • Mouth: bad breath, dental cavities, or dryness
  • Gastrointestinal: constipation, heartburn, or inflamed esophagus, sore throat
  • Weight: bodyweight changes or weight loss
  • Menstrual: absence of menstruation or irregular menstruation

Binge eating disorder(BED)

Unlike the other two that involve restricted feeding patterns, this involves losing control and overeating. Episodes are not usually followed with induced purging, fasting as in bulimia so individuals with this disorder tend to be overweight. Some individuals with BED might be obese and prone to have cardiovascular diseases.

Symptoms include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period
  • Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

Orthorexia Nervosa

This is an unhealthy obsession with “healthy eating”, it might sound strange, but too much of everything may have a negative effect on mental health. People affected by Orthorexia Nervosa tend to be overly obsessed with food quality, processing methods, packaging methods, and choosing from healthy choices. Going to the extreme with these healthy choices tends to affect relationships and may lead to isolation and depression.

Individuals with this type of disorder tend to:

  • Have obsessive thoughts over the effects of the food intake on medical conditions, such as asthma, anxiety, allergies, or digestive disorders, and including conditions that have not been diagnosed.
  • Heavily restrict the choice of food by tagging some foods as unfit.
  • Use significant amounts of probiotics, herbal remedies, and other supplements thought to have healthy effects on the body.
  • have irrational concerns about the preparation of foods, relating to food washing techniques and sterilization of utensils.
  • Depression, Anxiety, Mood swings, Feelings of shame, Self-loathing, Social isolation
  • Creating distance between friends and families who do not share the same belief with you about food.
  • Avoiding eating food that was not cooked from your home kitchen because you might not follow your prepared diet regimen.

How are Eating Disorders Diagnosed?

Many people with eating disorders might recognize they’re struggling with unhealthy habits and keep it a secret. A doctor or mental health professional or dietitian can help in giving a professional diagnosis.

There are no single tests to ascertain if a person has eating disorders, however, there are ranges of evaluations that could lead to diagnosis and they include:

  • Physical examinations: eating disorders take a huge toll on physical appearance, assessment of parameters include weight, height, waist circumference, heart rate, blood pressure, and lung function may help in diagnosis.
  • Psychological evaluation: by using a questionnaire or self-assessment test, a professional can help diagnose eating disorders.


Eating disorders can be effectively managed through:

  • Nutrition counseling
  • Individual, family psychotherapy
  • Medications
  • Medical care and monitoring

It is important to seek help early for eating disorders to avoid risks of self-hurt, suicide, or other medical complications. Substance abuse, depression, and anxiety are also common in people with eating disorders.


Eating disorders pose a huge threat to health (both physically and mentally). It is very important to seek professional help if affected.



  1. National Eating Disorders Association website. Orthorexia. Available at: Accessed August 1, 2019.
  2. Bratman S. Orthorexia. Available at: Accessed August 1, 2019.
  3. Butterfly Foundation(Homepage)Eating disorders Victoria (Key Research and Statistics)Headspace (What is an eating disorder)Headspace (Eating Disorder Assessment & Treatment)
  4. National Eating Disorders Collaboration(Eating disorders in Australia)
  5. National Eating Disorders Collaboration(Who is affected)Butterfly Foundation (Eating disorders explained)
  6. Eating Disorders Victoria(Getting better: treatment options for eating disorders)National Eating Disorders Collaboration (Supporting someone – Understanding the warning signs)
  7. National Eating Disorders Collaboration(Seeking professional help)Eating Disorders Victoria (For family and friends – Warning signs)Butterfly Foundation (Eating disorders treatment),
  8. Eating disorders Victoria (Eating disorders explained)
  9. National Eating Disorders Collaboration(What is OSFED)







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