We know that nearly 10 million men and 20 million women experience some type of eating disorder in their lifetime in the United States. The exact cause is not clear, but we understand that sociocultural, biological, and psychological factors can play a crucial role in their development. Answering the question, “Do I have an eating disorder” can be a nuanced and loaded question. Let’s explore what eating disorders are and the symptoms associated with each.
What are Eating Disorders?
When we think of eating disorders, we typically associate these conditions with unhealthy food behaviors, but they extend far beyond nutrition. Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that require medical and psychological intervention as they lead to disordered eating habits. They often start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape. In severe cases, eating disorders can cause serious health consequences and may even result in death if left untreated.
There are a Potential Number of Causes of Eating Disorders.
- Genetics: In twin studies, if one twin develops an eating disorder, there is a 50% chance that their twin will also develop one.
- Specific personality types: Those with traits such as neuroticism, perfectionism, or impulsivity tend to experience higher rates of eating disorders within their lifetime.
- Cultural preference: In western nations where “thinness” is the perceived ideal, eating disorders are at far higher rates than in cultures where body weight is not a sociocultural ideal.
Most Common Eating Disorders and their Symptoms
While Anorexia and Bulimia are the most common and most known eating disorders, there are many other lesser-known types. Let’s look at both of these and some other lesser-known mental health conditions that fall under the same category. Understanding the different types of eating disorders and their symptoms will help you answer this question: do I have an eating disorder?
Individuals with Bulimia tend to ingest excessive quantities of food very quickly. This behavior is known as “Binge eating” or “Binging.”
Following a binge, a person with bulimia will take steps to rid their bodies of the calories they just ingested. This is what is commonly known as “Purging.”
Known Methods used by Individuals with Bulimia to Purge Calories:
- Self-induced vomiting
- Taking diuretics
- Taking laxatives
While these methods are typical, there are other ways that people living with Bulimia purge, such as excessive fasting after a binge.
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
- Obsession with body weight and type
- Repeat binging that feels like a complete loss of control.
- Purging episodes to prevent weight gain
- A constant fear of gaining weight
- Acid reflux
- Sore or inflamed throat
- Tooth decay
- Severe dehydration
- Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to severe health conditions
As with Bulimia, Anorexia is commonly found in more women than men and is unique in a sufferer’s use of food restriction. With Anorexia, the individual does not primarily binge eat. They exercise excessively, diet, and fast to lose weight.
While extreme food restriction is a primary symptom of Anorexia, an individual with Anorexia might purge after eating food. They occasionally binge. To offset calories, a person with Anorexia will exercise to excess.
Typical signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
- Extremely restricting eating habits
- Underweight for their age and similar height
- Even while underweight, incredibly fearful of gaining weight
- Obsession with thinness
- Distorted body view
- Self-esteem is dictated by body shape and size.
- Avoidance of public eating
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
Binge Eating Disorder
Like with Bulimia Nervosa, people living with Binge Eating Disorder consume a large amount of food very quickly. What makes it unique is that these individuals do not restrict or purge after the event.
Individuals living with Binge Eating Disorder find themselves at a greater risk of being overweight or living with obesity. We find that males and older individuals suffer from Binge Eating Disorder at a higher percentage than women and younger people.
Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
- Eating large amounts of food rapidly with a sense of a loss of control.
- Experience distress, shame, guilt, or disgust after a binge.
- Prefer to eat in a private setting.
The lack of purging, excessive exercising, use of laxatives or diuretics, and restriction creates the distinction of Binge Eating Disorder from Bulimia and Anorexia.
Rumination is a newly recognized eating disorder. It is a condition in which the individual regurgitates food that they have previously chewed and swallowed, rechews it, and either swallows it again or spits it out. Rumination typically happens within 30 minutes of the last meal. Unlike reflux, Rumination is entirely voluntary.
Signs and Symptoms of Rumination Disorder
- Need to burp
- A feeling of discomfort after a meal
- Abdominal pain
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Chronic headaches
- Sleeping difficulties
- Weight Loss
Psychological treatment is highly effective in treating Rumination Disorder.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
What was once known as “Feeding Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood” is now called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or ARFID for short.
Although this eating disorder typically begins in early childhood, it can continue into adulthood. It is equally common among men and women.
ARFID sufferers experience a distaste or lack of interest in foods with specific smells, colors, textures, and tastes. Those experiencing symptoms of ARFID are not merely picky eaters. The sensory characteristics of the food physically repulse them.
Signs and Symptoms of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
- Significant weight-loss
- Stunted growth in children
- Severe nutrient deficiencies
- Dependence on nutritional supplements
- Significant interference with body functionality
While ARFID is not a new eating disorder, it is often mistaken as a childhood condition.
Do I have an Eating Disorder?
This simple screening may help you answer the question, “Do I have an eating disorder?”. If you feel that you exhibit symptoms or that disordered eating is paving the way for an eating disorder, please seek help.
Integrative Life Center
If you have an eating disorder, there is help for you at Integrative Life Center. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, we offer multiple levels of care for those seeking lasting recovery.
Our eating disorder treatment center will meet you wherever you are in your recovery. Whether you require help at the residential treatment center, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient care, transitional living, or extended care, Integrative Life Center is ready to help you. Please contact us for more details and to get started on your path to recovery.