Eating disorders are treatable medical conditions, and they are sometimes diagnosed in patients at rehabilitation centers. All eating disorders involve serious disturbances in weight regulation and eating behavior and are associated with numerous psychological, social, and physical consequences. Serious distress about body weight or shape, or extreme actions to manage food intake and weight are also characteristic of eating disorders.

Most people assume that people who have eating disorders are female, but that is not always the case. Rates of eating disorders among females are around 2.5 times higher than they are among males, but boys and men with eating disorders exist and suffer the same devastating health consequences as girls and women who have eating disorders. Though they are more common in the teen years and young adulthood, eating disorders can occur at any age.

Eating disorders are often diagnosed in people who also have other illnesses like anxiety, depression, or substance addiction, and can be life-threatening without treatment. Here is what you should know about the three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

People who have anorexia nervosa (often just called “anorexia”) have extreme fear of weight gain and often diet and exercise excessively. People with anorexia have a distorted body image, believing themselves to be overweight despite being significantly underweight. Anorexia often develops gradually, and may start as a desire to lose weight before a special event like a vacation. But with anorexia, preoccupation with weight loss intensifies even as more weight is lost.

Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Hiding weight loss with baggy clothing
  • Obsession with calorie counting and dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or food categories
  • Avoiding eating around other people
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Cessation of menstrual cycles
  • Denial that thinness is a problem

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is usually just known as “bulimia,” and it is a disorder in which a person overeats and then “purges” through inducing vomiting or abusing laxatives. When those with bulimia binge, they may feel a lack of control over the behavior. Unlike people with anorexia, those with bulimia may maintain a healthy or normal weight rather than being seriously underweight. But they have the same fear of gaining weight and are unhappy with the size and / or shape of their body.

Symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Chronic sore throat and swollen glands in the neck and jaw from frequent vomiting
  • Dental problems like decay, sensitivity, and worn enamel from exposure to stomach acid
  • Frequent acid reflux
  • Intestinal irritation from laxative abuse
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance from improper levels of calcium, sodium, potassium, and other minerals

Binge Eating Disorder          

Rehabilitation center

The signs of binge eating disorder are subtly different from those of bulimia.

Binge eating disorder is a disease where a person loses control over eating, but unlike with bulimia, purging behaviors (like fasting, vomiting, or exercising excessively) do not occur. People who have a binge eating disorder may be overweight or obese rather than roughly normal weight (like many people with bulimia) or underweight (like people with anorexia). The dangers of binge eating are different from the dangers of bulimia and anorexia, but they can be serious and include increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease as well as psychological symptoms like guilt and shame.

Signs of binge eating include:

  • Presence of large quantities of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time period
  • Food hoarding or storing food in strange places
  • Wearing loose clothing to hide weight gain
  • Avoiding eating around other people
  • Attempting to diet to lose weight, but not being able to do so

Eating Disorders and Co-Occurring Substance Addiction

Both substance abuse and eating disorders are influenced by factors including genetics, environment, and psychological makeup. Many of the same neurotransmitters involved with substance abuse are also involved with eating disorders. Alcohol abuse may coincide with eating disorders, because alcohol may be used to prompt vomiting. Drugs like cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine may also be abused, as may thyroid medications, insulin, stimulants, and weight loss drugs.

Succeeding with recovery in a rehabilitation center requires a holistic approach to addiction rehabilitation. That means that diagnosis of co-occurring conditions like eating disorders is important, so that they may be addressed at the same time. If you or someone you love is coping with the ravages of addiction combined with an eating disorder, we encourage you to learn more about admissions. Finding the right treatment program for the person with substance addiction and an eating disorder is essential for recovery, and we’re here to help whenever you need us.

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Understanding the Three Main Types of Eating Disorders
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