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Eating disorders are complex psychological conditions that are characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) specifically defines eating disorders as “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behavior.” There are different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The three most common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. There is no single, identifiable cause as to why someone develops an eating disorder. Research has, however, indicated certain biological, psychological, interpersonal, and social risk factors that have been noted to increase one’s susceptibility for developing an eating disorder.

Three Common Types

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by behaviors including unreasonable and unhealthy habitual food restrictions, over-exercising, abusing diet pills, abusing laxatives, and/ or fasting. An individual struggling with bulimia nervosa experiences frequent episodes of binge eating (eating excessive amounts of food in short periods of time) followed by purging (attempting to rid the body of the food by vomiting, fasting, and/ or excessively exercising). Binge eating disorder is particularly like bulimia nervosa, except an individual with binge eating disorder does not follow up his or her binge eating behaviors by purging. Instead, the individual internalizes the binge eating behaviors which ignite inner turmoil and unwanted emotions (e.g., feeling disgusted, ashamed, guilty, distressed, etc.) because of his or her excessive over-eating. Eating disorders can have debilitating effects and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily life. 

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. The Mayo Clinic provides a list of examples of behaviors that could be indicative of an eating disorder, some of which include the following: 

  • Obsessively focusing on healthy eating
  • Skipping meals 
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Adhering to an overly restrictive diet 
  • Preparing separate meals when eating in a group instead of eating what everyone else is eating
  • Excessive exercise
  • Constantly checking the mirror and/ or pointing out perceived flaws
  • Using laxatives, herbal weight loss products, and/ or dietary supplements
  • Regularly excusing oneself during meals to use the restroom
  • Eating in secret
  • Expressing disgust, shame, and/ or guilt about one’s eating habits

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. 


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