Eating disorders can be emotionally and physically depleting conditions. At least 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from these with up to 6.4% of the population showing signs of developing the conditions.
Much more attention is given to eating disorders than has historically been the case, meaning more work is being done to help cure those who suffer from the problems.
However, there are a variety of different eating disorders, and each affects its victims differently. This article takes a brief look at the symptoms of some of the most common eating disorders
Before going further, it is worth mentioning some of the avenues of support available if you (or someone you know) wishes to get help with an eating disorder. It is recommended that you speak with a GP about the problem so that you can be referred to the appropriate specialists.
The ability to speak to an adviser in confidence is also a possibility; the charity Beat, who specialises in eating disorders, has helplines available which can be accessed here.
Different Eating Disorders
The four most common eating disorders in the UK are, in descending order:
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
- Anorexia Nervosa
While these are the most common types of eating disorders, various other types do exist. For example, Pica is an eating disorder characterised by consumption of non-nutritious matter such as ice or hair, and diabulimia is an eating disorder that can only affect people with Type 1 diabetes.
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder which sees people try and keep their weight as low as possible. This is normally achieved by not eating enough food or exercising far too much.
Many victims of anorexia tend to think they are overweight or even obese despite being hugely underweight. It is most common in younger women, normally onsetting during the mid-teens.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa can include an unusually low BMI in adults, lower than expected weight and height in under-18s, and frequent use of appetite suppressants. Missing meals, describing yourself as overweight when you objectively aren’t, and physical problems (normally hair loss, dry skin, or lightheadedness) are also associated symptoms.
Very frequently, victims of anorexia will induce vomiting in an attempt to reduce their weight; this can lead to a serious worsening of side effects, exacerbating things like malnutrition and dehydration.
Bulimia and anorexia often get conflated or confused with one another, because both involve a fear of gaining weight and deliberate inducing of vomiting.
However, the two are different disorders entirely. Bulimia is characterised as a disorder where people go through periods of out of control binge-eating, followed by periods of intense fear over the thought of gaining weight, ending with attempts to try and lose weight such as vomiting or excessive exercise.
These three things are the main symptoms, but people with bulimia often also have mood changes. The fear that bulimic people experience over the thought of being overweight is an important difference between bulimia and anorexia, since fixing a fear is a much different process to correcting misconceptions someone has with the way they perceive themselves in the world.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating is a symptom of bulimia, but Binge Eating Disorder is a category of its own; BED doesn’t involve fear of being overweight, misperceptions about one’s actual weight, or any extreme attempts to fix the problem such as excessive exercise.
Rather, people with BED eat large portions of food at one time regularly until they are uncomfortably full or feel ill. This often results in feelings of intense guilt or upset. Binges are typically planned, food stockpiled for them, and are often done very quickly in secret, when someone isn’t physically hungry.
It is particularly prevalent in the late teens and early twenties.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders
The largest individual category of eating disorders are Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders. These OSFEDs are also serious eating disorders, but present in different ways to standard disorders like anorexia nervosa. Some of the most common OSFED diagnoses are:
- Atypical Anorexia: a condition the same as anorexia nervosa, but the victim’s weight stays within a normal range
- Purging Disorder: a disorder comprised entirely of the use of laxatives or emetics to alter weight, yet isn’t part of the binging/purging cycle in conditions such as bulimia
- Low Frequency/Limited Duration Bulimia Nervosa: a type of bulimia wherein all the standard symptoms are present, but the cycles of over-eating and purging are of a shorter duration than would be expected
- Low Frequency/Limited Duration Binge Eating Disorder: like above; all the symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder are present, but periods of binge eating do not take place over the same duration as would normally be expected
- Night Eating Syndrome: a disorder that sees the person suffering from it repeatedly eating at night – normally after waking up during the night or binge eating a lot of food after the evening meal
It is sometimes more difficult to assess if someone is suffering from an OSFED. While something like purging disorder can clearly be identified as a problem, things such as night eating syndrome can sometimes be written off as quirky behaviours.
If episodes of bulimia are short, they could be viewed as ‘phases’ that someone will grow out of, or someone with concerns about being anorexic might be written off as attention-seeking because they are in a normal weight range.
This is why it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you think you might be suffering from an eating disorder.
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Further Eating Disorders Reading
The NHS website has information about many types of eating disorders, including the treatments that are available and causes of them: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/
The charity Beat, in addition to providing confidential advice hotlines, has a lot of information on their website about kinds of eating disorders and the symptoms thereof: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/