6 Types of Eating Disorders: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Those who have one of the 6 types of eating disorders are well-informed and aware; however, the general public can benefit from additional information as eating disorders are not widely known. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from February 22nd through the 28th and serves as an educational tool for those with and without eating disorders. 

Eating disorders do not discriminate and are not limited to troubled teenage girls who want to look like models. All genders, sexes, and age groups can experience the discomforts and trauma of an eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious illnesses and  have the highest death rates among those with mental illnesses. A common question those who have never experienced the illness ask is, “Why”? It is common for those who do not understand what eating disorders are, how they affect someone, and they are not aware of the effects it has of a victim. 

Having an eating disorder is not a choice, and those who have it do not want to count their food and over exercise instead their psychological mindset tells them they need to. It can develop as a coping mechanism and give the individual a set of rules in order to take away risk and decision. Eating disorders go beyond the food and weight, as they are addictions. They are self harm. 

Each disorder presents itself differently through the process making it difficult to see the signs for some patients; however, one commonality remains: they all surve a purpose. In light of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week here are the 6 types of eating disorders to be aware of.

Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

This disorder presents itself as under-eating due to a disinterest or intended distaste in food. Those with or have experienced this disorder experience weight loss or have nutritional deficiency due to lack of nutrition from not eating enough for a healthy diet. It is not to be confused with a child going through their picky or selective eating phase. A person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly. In adults, they do not consume enough calories to maintain body function. 

Common Symptoms:

  • Significant weight loss 
  • Failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltered growth in children
  • Significant nutritional deficiency
  • Reports constipation, abdominal pain, and cold intolerance
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food

The risks of ARFID can affect each individual differently. Children who do not outgrow picky eating, or in whom picky eating is severe, appear to be more likely to develop ARFID, and many children with the eating disorder have a co-occurring anxiety disorder and are high risk for other psychiatric disorders. 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is the most well-known eating disorder. Victims are often obsessed with perfecting their body image and like to remain in control by limiting the amount of calories they consume. Driven by their obsessive compulsive behaviors, those with anorexia are unable to recognize when they are severely underweight.  It generally developed during adolescence and typically affects more women than men; however, it is not limited to a gender specific stereotype. 

Those with the disorder tend to view themselves as overweight, even if they are dangerously underweight. Calorie counting, weight monitoring, and food avoidances are symptoms of Anorexia. 

Common Symptoms:

  • Being considerably underweight compared to others of a similar height and age
  • Restriction of eating patterns
  • Intense fear of weight gain or persistency to avoid gaining weight 
  • An unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight in pursuit of thinness

Obsessive-compulsive symptoms tend to be present, as people with anorexia are caught up in thoughts of food and may hoard recipes or food. They may have difficulties eating in public and would instead like to control their environment. Those with restrictive anorexia will lose weight solely through dieting, fasting and exercise. However, there is another type of anorexia involving binge eating and purging. 

Individuals with Anorexia who restrict themselves or purge can experience damage to their body. Bones may thin, infertility, brittle hair and nails, and can experience a layer of hair growing over their bodies. Anorexia as a whole can cause heart, brain, or multi-organ failure. 


Those with this eating disorder indulge in high quantities of food and then make themselves purge shortly after. Purging gives one a sense of relief. Similarly to anorexia, it helps the individual feel in control of their own bodies. An individual may eat a lot or a little and purge themselves by either vomiting, taking laxatives, or exercising excessively. 

More often than not, individuals experiencing Bulimia tend to over eat until they are painfully full. During a binge it can be hard for a person to feel they are in control and stop eating. After, individuals with Bulimia then attempt to purge to compensate for the calories consumed and to relieve discomfort. 

Common Symptoms:

  • Recurring episodes of binge eating
  • Recurring episodes of inappropriate purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Self-esteem influenced by body shape and weight
  • A fear of gaining weight

Side effects include inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel, tooth decay, acid reflux, irritation of the gut, severe dehydration, and hormonal imbalances. Bulimia may also cause an imbalance of electrolytes leading to a stroke or heart attack.  

Binge Eating Disorder

Those who binge consume a large amount of food on a day to day basis subsiding the recommended calorie intake. These individuals are often overweight and obese. Unlike the previous eating disorders, these individuals often feel ashamed and feel they cannot control their bodies. This disease tends to start in adolescence and early adulthood, and has similar symptoms to bulimia or anorexia. 

Common Symptoms:

  • Eating large amounts of food rapidly, mostly in secret, until uncomfortably full
  • Falling a lack of control
  • Experience feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust, or guilt when thinking about binge eating
  • No use of purging behaviors

Risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are high in individuals with Binge Eating Disorder who do not seek medical help. 


Pica is an eating disorder where an individual eats nonfood items: rocks, paper, hair, sand, chalk, laundry detergent, cornstarch. Reasons for developing this disorder are unknown but research theories conclude stress, developmental disorders, and low socio-econimic status. Pica tends to go side by side with other issues, such as malnutrition, infections, and poisoning due to the consumption of nonfood items. Pica tends to occur in adults, as well as children and adolescents. The disorder tends to occur in individuals with a mental disability. 

Individuals with pica have increased risk of poisoning, infections, gut injuries, and nutritional deficiencies. Unfortunately, due to the type of substances consumed, pica may be fatal. However, to be considered pica, the consumption of non-food substances must not be part of someone’s religion or culture, and it may not be considered socially acceptable by a person’s peers. 

Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

Individuals end up unknowingly eating in their sleep, and may roam in their kitchen cabinets, fridge, or eat in their beds. This eating disorder affects one to three percent of the world’s general population. It can be associated with certain medications, eating disorders, and other sleep disorders. 

Common Symptoms:

  • Frequent episodes at night of eating and drinking in an out-of-control manner
  • Impaired consciousness while preparing and eating food
  • Little or no memory of these actions the next morning
  • Not being easily awakened or redirected during an episode

There is an increased risk of developing this sleep-related eating disorder alongside other sleep disorders: sleep apnea, sleepwalking, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome. Certain sleep medications and certain other medications, having a daytime eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia, and having a mental health disorder, such as stress, anxiety, or depression can also lead to developing this eating disorder. 

Complications include weight gain, poor diabetes control or cavities, daytime tiredness from disrupted sleep, and self-harm caused by dangerous use of appliances or from eating something toxic, or eating something you are allergic to. 

In Recovery vs Full Recovery

Recovery is the process by which someone overcomes an eating disorder. During recovery patients undergo therapies to help them understand why their disorders exist and help them challenge their thoughts. FOr many, recovery continues long after treatment. The recovery time and process is different for each individual as each cause for the disorder was triggered by different things as well. 

In recovery means the individual is in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, and they could be undergoing specific, tailored programs to help the individual combat their eating disorder. A person can still be in recovery after completion of their program if they still believe they are not fully recovered. This individual can be living outside of treatment but still struggles against the urge to engage in the disordered eating habits again. 

A fully recovered individual is completely free of all symptoms and urges and must have accepted their natural body size. They will have an appropriate view on food, body weight, and body image. Ultimately, the goal for the recovery process is to reach this stage, as it signals the individual is now free from the negative effects of the illness. 

How to Help

Friends and family are often key to encouraging loved ones with eating disorders to seek help. Allowing someone with a disorder to know you have their back and are there for them every step of the recovery process can help motivate the individual. When speaking to a loved one about eating concerns remember to be sensitive to their feelings. 

  • Learn as much as you can about eating disorders. 
    • Read books, articles, watch videos, and know the difference between facts and myths. Knowing the difference between the two will help you reason with your friend about any ideas possibly fueling their disordered eating habits. 
  • Set a private time to talk.
    • This subject matter can be really sensitive, and public humiliation will not help the individual’s confidence or ability to heal. No one wants to have personal issues dissected in front of others, so make sure you find a time and place to have the discussion about your concerns in private.
  • Be prepared for negative reactions.
    • No one likes to admit they have a problem, especially when the individual was unaware they were participating in self-harm behaviors. It is normal for some people to become angry and hostile while others may brush off the concerns about potential dangers. Both responses are normal just let them know you care and love them while leaving the conversation open. 
  • Encourage them to seek help.
    • Many eating disorder sufferers require the help of a professional. If you or a loved one is ready to seek treatment for recovery, the NEDA Helpline is available to everyone. 

Eating disorders, if left untreated, can cause serious health consequences or even death in the worst cases. Being patient, caring, and sensitive about the subject when suspecting someone has a disorder is important when approaching them because negative reactions are expected, as eating disorders are a psychological illness. Although eating disorders can affect people of any gender and age, they are often reported in adolescents and young women. 

It is important to understand the eating disorders even if you do not have on of the 6 types of eating disorders yourself, so in order to commemorate the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, try to learn the signs, symptoms, and know the difference between myth and fact in order to help fight back against the psychological illnesses and possibly save others lives by caring. 

It is important to understand the triggers causing the disorders. Bullies making fun of someone’s appearance, the constant comparison of oneself to another, and other underlying issues can cause the start to an eating disorder. The recovery process can be long and hard as those suffering from the illness or illnesses learn to love their bodies, self-image, and weight after years of trying to change who they were. The process can be both brutal and rewarding, so support is greatly needed. The best way to support those you love is by educating yourself. 


Meladi Brewer
Meladi Brewer

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