Many people have certain food quirks, little things they do when it comes to what they eat when they eat, and how much they eat.
These quirks are usually harmless, but there is a significant difference between having a quirk and an eating disorder.
It can be difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins, which is why it isn’t uncommon to wonder if your eating habits or those of a loved one can be considered an eating disorder.
Let’s explore what classifies as an eating disorder, talk about common eating disorders, signs, and symptoms, and finally, ways to seek help.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is defined as a range of psychological disorders that are characterized by disordered eating habits.
Eating disorders and the unhealthy habits associated with them often develop due to an individual’s obsession with nutrition, weight, body shape, or food itself.
They are not uncommon, being that 20 million women and 10 million men across the US will have an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.
An eating disorder is most commonly found in young women.
The trigger that causes an eating disorder to develop is not easy to determine, but many experts attribute them to certain personality traits (like perfectionism), cultural pressures, hormonal imbalances in the brain, and genetic factors.
Common Eating Disorders
Disordered eating is not the same for everyone affected by it and as such, there are different eating disorders to consider when it comes to your concerns.
Though there are more disorders than the ones listed below, these are the most commonly diagnosed eating disorders in the developed world.
Anorexia results in the person afflicted with the disorder believing that they are overweight, despite being dangerously underweight.
A person with anorexia nervosa will carefully monitor their weight, keep a strict diet, and significantly restrict their caloric intake.
Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- Placing a significant portion of one’s self-worth on their weight
- Heavily restricting calories
- Having a distorted body image (seeing themselves as overweight)
- Obsessing over food (including hoarding certain foods or hiding food)
- Difficulty eating in a public environment
- Losing a significant amount of weight in a short time
Like anorexia, individuals with bulimia nervosa are preoccupied with losing weight, however, instead of heavily restricting their caloric intake, bulimic individuals control weight through binging and purging.
Binge eating occurs when an individual eats unusually large portions of food, beyond the point of being full.
After binging, a person with bulimia will attempt to compensate for their caloric intake by vomiting, taking laxatives or enemas, fasting after a binge, or engaging in heavy exercise.
Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:
- Frequent binge eating
- Purging to prevent weight gain
- Fear of gaining weight, though bulimic individuals are typically a ‘normal’ weight
- Placing significant worth on their weight
Binge Eating Disorder
Among eating disorders in the US, binge eating is believed to be the most common.
Binge eating involves an individual eating unusually large amounts of food, but unlike those with bulimia, individuals with binge eating issues do not purge or restrict calories.
Binging often leads to an affected individual gaining weight, which may result in becoming overweight or obese as the disorder continues without treatment.
Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include:
- A lack of control during binging episodes
- Feeling ashamed, disgusted, or saddened after binging
- Usually binging in secret, alone
- Eating well beyond feeling full
Orthorexia involves an obsession with healthy eating, to where an affected individual will only eat foods deemed “pure.”
Unlike anorexia or bulimia, orthorexia does not revolve around weight or food quantity specifically, instead, orthorexia focuses on food quality.
While healthy eating is ideal, orthorexia can become a health hazard when certain healthy foods are obsessed over enough to where other foods are limited.
Orthorexia often leads to affected individuals missing out on necessary vitamins and nutrients due to their belief that foods containing these nutrients are unhealthy.
Unlike truly healthy eating, orthorexia can lead to malnutrition and cause disruptions in daily life due to preoccupation with food.
Common symptoms include:
- Restricted eating, only ingesting foods deemed “healthy”
- Preoccupation with food, meal planning, and food research
- Malnutrition due to dietary limitations
Again, the above-mentioned eating disorders are the most common, but there are a variety of disorders that have not been mentioned.
If you’re engaging in some form of disordered eating that does not sound like the above-mentioned disorders (for example, if you’re eating non-food material), you may still have some form of an eating disorder.
Overcoming An Eating Disorder
If you’re concerned about either yourself or a loved one, you’ll be relieved to know that there are several steps you can take to help overcome an eating disorder.
If you’re worried about someone close to you, it’s a good idea to talk about your concerns in an open, judgment-free way.
Likewise, if a friend or loved one has expressed concerns about your eating habits, try to avoid getting angry.
It can be very difficult to discuss eating disorders or help an affected individual aside from offering support.
Because an eating disorder deeply impacts a person’s mental wellbeing, it’s imperative that the affected individual speaks with a licensed therapist.
Eating disorders are very much treatable when addressed and managed properly, rather than battling disordered eating alone.
If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, it would be wise to seek the help of a licensed therapist who is experienced in helping individuals with eating disorders.
An experienced, professional mental health therapist can offer the support you need, and provide you with treatment options that will encourage recovery.
It’s important to note that treatment does not look the same for everyone, and what works for one individual may not work for another.
The failure of one treatment option does not mean that an individual will not find a successful treatment plan with the help of an experienced professional.
If you’d like support in working through your eating disorder, you’re welcome to contact our offices as soon as you’re ready. We’ve helped many people struggling with eating disorders and we would be honored to help you, too.
We have a therapist on staff who is trained in Health At Every Size (HAES) and our staff is composed of body-positive professionals.
Please feel free to book a complimentary 20-minute consultation with one of our licensed therapists if you know who you would like to work with, or you can book a personalized matching consultation with our center’s clinical intake coordinator who will match you to the best-fitting therapist for your clinical and logistical needs.