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There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), each is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. They are serious mental illnesses that are loosely characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. While there is significant overlap, each type of eating disorder comes with its own set of signs and symptoms, short and long-term effects, and treatment methods. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. The exact cause behind why an individual develops an eating disorder remains unknown, but research has found that it is likely due to a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. Eating disorders can be debilitating and can adversely affect a person’s emotions, health, and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily life. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), an estimated 30 million U.S. adults will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While eating disorders are life-long conditions, with proper treatment and support, a person can learn to effectively manage its symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

Every person is unique and will exhibit a distinct set of signs and symptoms as they relate to the presence of an eating disorder. Furthermore, the type of eating disorder an individual struggles with can influence the signs and symptoms experienced. Although there are a variety of signs and symptoms that could be indicative of an eating disorder, the five most common signs include the following, provided by the University of Rochester Medical Center:

  1. Disruptions in eating patterns (e.g., skipping meals, obsessively focusing on healthy eating, regularly excusing oneself during meals to use the restroom, making excuses for not eating, etc.)
  2. Compensatory behaviors (e.g., engaging in excessive exercise, using laxatives, herbal weight loss products, and/ or dietary supplements, etc.)
  3. Self-imposed social isolation (e.g., withdrawing from family and/ or friends, avoiding social situations, not participating in previously enjoyed pastimes and/ or activities, etc.)
  4. Body insecurity (e.g., preoccupation with one’s body size or shape, constantly checking the mirror and/ or pointing out perceived flaws, etc.)
  5. Mood fluctuations (e.g., irritability, depression, anxiety, agitation, etc.)

The combination, severity, and duration of symptoms is influenced by the type of eating disorder present as well as the individual. If left untreated, continued malnutrition that occurs with an untreated eating disorder can lead to severe short and long-term consequences. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.