It’s no doubt that eating disorders are concerning. Not only should parents educate themselves about eating disorders so they can recognize the symptoms in their children, but all people should be able to recognize when they themselves may be developing a condition.
Eating disorders can affect anybody, and being able to understand what constitutes a disorder is the first step to helping people overcome such conditions. So, let’s dive into the five most common eating disorders and what differentiates them from one another.
Types of Eating Disorders
One of the most common eating disorders in young children and animals, pica is recognized when a patient eats things that are not intended for consumption. While it is normal for children to put new objects in their mouths out of curiosity, pica is very different.
It is a disorder where a person or animal seems to eat non-edible items compulsively. Common items consumed by a person with pica may include grass, coins, dirt, or crayons. Obviously, this sort of behavior can lead to a number of complications, so it should be curbed once it’s recognized.
Recognizing pica might sound simple enough, but it can be difficult. Children seem to have an innate sense when they’re doing something wrong, so they might hide the behavior from you if you have reacted negatively to them doing it before. Once recognized, treatment usually constitutes practical measures like locking cabinets. Therapy might also be recommended in certain cases.
A well-known eating disorder, anorexia nervosa is a condition where patients skip meals, eat less than optimal caloric amounts, or go long stretches without eating anything at all. People with anorexia usually have some sort of body dysmorphia that leads them to believe that they weigh much more than they do. This leads to an intense fear of gaining weight, which is the main contributor to the disorder.
Anorexia is particularly dangerous because, obviously, lack of proper nutrients can lead to a number of different medical conditions. By avoiding meals for an extended period of time, or reducing meal sizes to an infinitesimal size, patients with the disorder can suffer from a wide variety of symptoms, including anemia, fatigue, sleeping problems, dizziness, and more.
Since anorexia is a condition that can last for years, long-term effects can lead to more dangerous complications, including heart problems, calcium deficiencies, muscle loss, and kidney issues, to name a few.
Another dangerously common condition, binge-eating disorder, refers to when a person regularly consumes large meals and feels like they are unable to stop eating. Binge-eating is not necessarily caused by excessive hunger. Instead, the comfort that eating food brings is sought after to such a degree that the patient feels like they must keep eating no matter what. However, this is far from the only cause of the condition – there are many others.
It can be difficult to recognize this condition if you are not around a patient during their mealtimes. Even if you are, patients regularly binge-eat in secret. The disorder may lead to weight gain, as large meals on a consistent basis lead to a higher overall caloric intake. It’s important to recognize when you or a loved one might have binge-eating disorder, as it can also lead to a number of complications down the road, including obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Bulimia and binge-eating disorders are often misconstrued for one another, but the conditions are very different. While bulimic individuals engage in binge eating, their condition involves vomiting. Specifically, this condition refers to where a patient forces themselves to vomit after eating. This is usually a compulsive urge that they find difficult to resist. Typically, bulimic individuals will also keep this a secret, as it often stems from body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, or a feeling that they need to lose weight.
Recognizing bulimia nervosa in a patient can be difficult: like people with other eating disorders, sufferers often want to hide their condition from others. Patients may eat breath mints or brush their teeth. However, the frequent exposure of stomach acids to dental enamel will lead to dental issues due to acid damage.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Our final eating disorder is a common condition that causes sufferers to restrict their dietary intake to one or only a few types of food, or to restrict certain items from their diet. Imagine the concept of a “picky eater” taken to its most extreme degree, and you’ll begin to understand this disorder. Sufferers might only eat mac & cheese, sandwiches, or limit themselves in a similar way.
This condition can cause severe nutritional deficiencies, which can cause a number of issues in their own right. These complications can include conditions like scurvy, gout, cancer, heart disease, kidney issues, muscle loss, skeletal problems, and more.