Types of Eating Disorder


Overeating, under eating, purging, over exercising or a combination of these behaviours are frequent occurrences in everyday life for someone with an eating disorder, so much so that their health can suffer severely from poor nutrition and their normal daily routine becomes difficult. The main types of eating disorders include:

  • ·         Anorexia Nervosa
  • ·         Bulimia Nervosa
  • ·         Binge Eating Disorder
  • ·         Compulsive Eating

It is possible for these conditions to co-exist alongside one another.

Anorexia Nervosa

If you have anorexia, what you eat, and if and when you eat it, may feel like the only part of life that you have under control: putting on weight means losing control. The act of eating can come to represent everything bad, including the feelings that aren’t allowed to come to the surface. Not eating, and losing weight, can therefore become your only way of feeling safe, even though you may actually feel extremely hungry. You may also feel torn between not being able to bear putting on weight, and yet not wanting to die of starvation.

Often, anorexia is inaccurately called the ‘slimmer’s disease’, taking no account of what’s behind such an extreme response: your negative feelings, your sense of low self-worth, your extreme fear of rejection and your distorted self-image.

If you have anorexia you are likely to:

  • ·         deny that you feel hungry, despite not eating
  • ·         be obsessed with losing weight
  • ·         count calories meticulously
  • ·         hide food or secretly throw it away
  • ·         completely avoid high-calorie foods
  • ·         make yourself sick
  • ·         exercise excessively
  • ·         use drugs that reduce your appetite or speed up your digestion
  • ·         wear baggy clothes to cover up any weight loss, or to keep warm
  • ·         believe that you look fat, although you are considered underweight by other people.

Anorexia can affect every aspect of your life: the way you think, your concentration and your ability to move around. Anorexia is a serious, life threatening illness.

Anorexia can result in you:

  • ·         weighing much less than you should (at least 15 per cent less than the expected weight for your age and height)
  • ·         being physically underdeveloped (this may happen if your problem occurs before puberty)
  • ·         missing many menstrual periods or having them stop altogether (although this may not occur if you are taking a contraceptive pill)
  • ·         losing interest in sex or experiencing sexual dysfunction
  • ·         having changes in your personality
  • ·         feeling a ‘high’ from denying yourself food or exercising too much
  • ·         getting depressed
  • ·         feeling tired and weak
  • ·         poor concentration.

If you believe you have anorexia you should see your GP.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is more common than anorexia. It is a cycle of feeling compelled to eat large amounts of food, and then trying to undo the effects of doing so.

If you have bulimia you are likely to:

  • ·         eat in binges (excessive quantities all in one go)
  • ·         starve yourself after eating
  • ·         make yourself sick or use laxatives (known as ‘purging’)
  • ·         think constantly about eating
  • ·         eat in secret
  • ·         have irresistible cravings for certain foods
  • ·         Think of yourself as fat.

If you have bulimia your weight will stay roughly the same, so it is not so visible. Because of this, people are less likely to notice the illness or offer help without you asking. This can make it harder to get support even when you feel ready to try to get better.

You may find yourself taking great care to keep bulimia hidden from those around you. You may dread being fat and probably believe that you should be much thinner than a healthy body shape or weight. However, the measures you may be taking aren’t actually doing what you hope they might:

  • ·         laxatives don’t actually help with weight loss
  • ·         being sick gets rid of less than half the calories eaten
  • ·         diuretic drugs, which rid the body of fluid, have no effect on the amount of calories absorbed
  • ·         a flat stomach may be a temporary benefit, but it soon returns to normal when fluid levels rise again.

Media attention has glamorised, and so trivialised, bulimia nervosa.

But the health effects are not trivial:

  • ·         A stretched colon, constipation, heart disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can occur with excessive use of laxatives, as they deprive your body of vital minerals.
  • ·         Epileptic fits, muscular weakness and heart problems can arise from frequent vomiting.
  • ·         Poor skin may develop due to dehydration.
  • ·         Bad teeth can be caused by stomach acids eroding tooth enamel when vomiting and insufficient minerals remaining in the body.
  • ·         Menstrual periods may become very irregular or stop altogether (although this may not occur if you are taking a contraceptive pill).

If you believe you have bulimia you should contact your GP.

Binge Eating

If you eat very large quantities of (often) high-calorie food, all in one go, it’s known as binge eating. The binges are often triggered by some serious upset; for example, you might find yourself eating much more than you normally would, following a stressful day at work. You may eat in secret, and during these binges, you may feel quite out of control. If you also have bulimia, you may follow up these episodes by making yourself sick or using laxatives. You will usually put on a lot of weight. Excessive binge eating may be life threatening.

Compulsive Eating

You may eat compulsively if you have come to rely on food for emotional support. You may pick at food all day, and feel like you can’t stop yourself. You might also find that you eat without really thinking about it; for example, by regularly eating large amounts of snack foods while watching the TV or reading. You may also use food to cheer yourself up if you’re feeling unhappy. As a result, you are likely to be heavily overweight, and in danger of developing health problems because of it.

Compulsive eating is a way of masking problems, often connected with close relationships. Underneath it, you may have low self-esteem, even feeling worthless. You may feel lonely and empty, and harbour a deep sense of loss. Compulsive eaters often deal with problems in life by denying there’s anything wrong.

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