What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a form of mental health problem that is serious that is characterized by extreme disturbances in eating habits and associated emotions and thoughts. The majority of people suffering from ED are prone to an unhealthy obsession with body size and weight or the shape of their bodies. The most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) recognizes four sub-categories for eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa (AN)
  • Bulimia nervosa (BN)
  • Binge-eating disorder (BED)
  • Other eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa (AN)

Anorexia nervosa manifests itself as restricting food intake, which leads to either weight loss or the inability to gain weight. This is so that it causes a shallow body mass depending on age, gender and height. It’s accompanied by disfigured body image and constant fear of weight gain. The most current version of DSM has two sub-categories for AN:

“Restricting” type, whereby a variety of restrictions are imposed on food consumption and can be coupled with strict food guidelines.

“Binge-purge” type, where people experience regular binge eating bouts followed by purging via self-inducing vomiting, using laxatives or frequent exercise.

Bulimia nervosa (BN)

The disorder is characterized by frequent and uncontrolled episodes of excessive eating followed by methods of elimination. Patients with BN are often unable to stop or avoid the binge eating episodes that can happen from many times per week to several times per day. People suffering from BN might maintain above-normal or average body weight, and as that is, it differentiates BN from the binge-purge kind of AN.


Binge-related eating disorder (BED)

Frequent bouts of eating define binge eating disorder, often even when hungry, followed by extreme feelings of shame and depression and self-disgust. It is similar to Bulimia Nervosa. Even though sufferers are prone to periodic and repeated diets, the binge-like episodes aren’t immediately followed by purging episodes.

Other eating disorders

This is a term used to identify and categorize other types of symptoms associated with eating disorders that do not fall into the three categories above. This term blends OFSTED AND UFED in addition to the earlier time ‘eating disorders that are not otherwise defined in the DSM-IV. This comprises:

Other particularized feeding or eating disorders (OSFED)

A term used when an individual exhibits eating disorder symptoms but is not at the level to be considered a clinically diagnosed patient. For instance, an individual who exhibits all of the signs of anorexia nervosa but who is not overweight or has the symptoms of bulimia, but who doesn’t binge or purge as often as one would expect.

Unspecified eating disorder or anonymous food (UFED)

This classification could define actions that cause significant clinical distress or a decrease in functioning. However, they don’t meet the criteria of other eating or eating disorder.


Pica can be the term used to describe those who regularly consume non-food items like paper or chalk and edible things that have no nutritional value, like ice, for more than a year.

Rumination disorder

Rumination syndrome, also known as Rumination disorder, is a condition in which food taken in and swallowed by a person is reabsorbed painlessly and with no effort. The re-sloughed food can be re-set and re-chewed or spit out. A digestive disorder doesn’t cause regurgitation.

AFRAID is an avoidant restriction food ingestion disorder (AFRID)

DSM-5 determines the condition of AFRID as an eating or eating disorder that causes a continuous inability to eat enough to meet nutritional and energy requirements.

What problems are related to eating disorders?

Eating disorders are complex and severe conditions that could cause serious health problems and even death. The mortality rates associated with eating disorders differ from study to study according to the classification of the disorder, the cause of death, assumption of causality due to the disorder, and the length of the follow-up.

A large prospective study tracked patients with anorexia for 30 years and gathered mortality data from a national registry. It found that people suffering from AN have a six-fold higher mortality and a higher chance of dying of natural causes like cancer.

Limiting your caloric intake can cause the body to consume muscle tissue as fuel, including heart tissue, because the heart has less energy and fewer cells to support the circulatory system; both pulse rate and blood pressure decrease and increase the chance that heart problems may occur. Other issues include disruptions to the endocrine system, leading to amenorrhea and osteoporosis, insulin resistance, and gastric disorders like gastroparesis, pancreatitis or constipation.

What are the risk factors that are associated with eating disorders?

The possibility to develop an eating disorder may be triggered by a variety of interconnected biological, psychosocial and environmental factors, which increase the variety of symptoms and experiences sufferers of eating disorders. But, research has revealed various broad factors that determine the risk of developing eating disorders.

person holding burger bun with vegetables and meat

The biological causes

Genetic research has confirmed the genetic basis of AN that those with an immediate family member with AN are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. Twin studies have estimated the risk of inheriting AN at between 50 and 60 per cent. The attempts to pinpoint specific genes involved in this risk factor AN haven’t been as effective. Still, more recent genome-wide associations studies have demonstrated genetic correlations with AN and other mental disorders. However, studies on the genetics for other eating disorders aren’t as plentiful.

Other risk factors in the biological realm have a strong connection between the onset of binge-like eating disorders and a history of diets and insulin-resistant diabetes and eating disorders.

Psychological issues

Certain mental traits, such as perfectionists and cognitive-behavioural inflexibility, can be linked with the possibility to develop disordered eating. Notably, having unreasonable expectations for oneself and the inability to change to new situations.

Eating disorders are also frequently associated with anxiety disorders, particularly phobias and social anxiety. It is interesting to note that social anxiety is the most closely linked to BN and BED. Both eating disorders share the same cognitive style, including fears of social judgment and rigorous assessments of social situations.

The treatment for eating disorders

The eating disorders that cause problems can be successfully treated. If they are diagnosed earlier, it will be simpler to deal with them. The recovery process may take months or even years, but most people will recover. After diagnosis, treatment is an all-disciplinary treatment plan.

The health professionals included in the program are psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, dieticians, nutritional advisors, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses and social workers.

Treatments include diet education, psychotherapy, and treating mental disorders that occur concurrently, like anxiety and depression.


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