Eating Disorders

Formally classified as "feeding and eating disorders" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the term "eating disorders" represents a group of complex mental health conditions that can seriously impair health and social functioning.

Because of the physical nature of their defining symptoms, eating disorders can cause both emotional distress and significant medical complications. They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorders. Eating disorders are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating patterns that leads to poor physical or psychological health. They are relatively common occurrences in wealthy, industrialized countries, affecting up to 4 percent of women and approximately 1.5 percent of men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some studies put the lifetime prevalence of eating disorders in these countries as high as 8 percent.

Eating patterns are usually influenced by many factors, environmental along with biological and cultural. The causes of eating disorders are thus complex and multifaceted. Disordered eating patterns can be caused by feelings of distress or concern about body shape or weight, and they also harm body composition and function. Eating disorders frequently occur also with other psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. In addition, people who suffer from eating disorders can experience a wide range of physical health complications, including serious heart conditions and kidney failure, which may lead to death.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are many types of feeding and eating disorders, and they all come with their defining characteristics and diagnostic criteria. The eating disorders formally recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) include the following:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a persistent restriction on food intake, an intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, and a distorted perception of body weight or shape. An individual with anorexia nervosa usually maintains a body weight that is below a minimally normal level for age, sex, and physical health. However, in a condition known as atypical anorexia, someone may meet the diagnostic criteria for anorexia yet not be underweight; in many cases, people with atypical anorexia were previously overweight and have moved into a "normal" weight range as a result of their disordered eating habits.

People with anorexia often attempt to lose weight by dieting, fasting, or exercising excessively; they have what is known as the restricting type of anorexia.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (binge-eating) and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This is followed by some behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting, or excessive exercise.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes, during which a person feels a loss of control over his or her eating. An episode of binge-eating is defined as eating an amount of food that is significantly larger than most people would eat in a similar period under similar circumstances. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorders are often overweight or obese.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is characterized by the avoidance or restriction of food intake. Individuals with ARFID have a lack of interest in eating food based on a negative experience with the food. This form of "picky eating" typically develops in infancy or early childhood and may continue into adulthood. It may also be present in individuals with the heightened sensory sensitivities associated with autism.

ARFID is characterized by significant weight loss, failure to achieve expected weight gain in children, significant nutritional deficiencies, and inability to participate in such mal social activities as eating with others.

Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorder is an eating disorder marked by the repeated regurgitation of food after eating. Individuals with rumination disorder bring up previously swallowed food into the mouth without displaying any signs of nausea, involuntary retching, or disgust. This food is typically then re-chewed and spit out or swallowed again. The regurgitating behavior is sometimes described as a habit or outside of the control of the individual.

The disorder is marked by weight loss, and children who have the disorder fail to make expected weight gains.

Rumination disorder can develop in infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Infants with the disorder tend to strain and arch their back with their heads held back, making sucking movements with their tongues. Malnutrition may occur despite ingestion of large amounts of food, particularly when regurgitated food is spat out. In infants as well as in older people with intellectual disability, the regurgitation and rumination behavior seems to have a self-soothing or self-stimulating function, much like other repetitive motor behaviors such as rocking and headbanging.

Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Although symptoms of different eating disorders vary greatly, some may indicate a reason to investigate further. What's more, if your thoughts or behaviors surrounding food, weight, or body image are causing distress and impacting daily functioning, it's time to seek help.

  • Dietary restriction

  • Frequent weight changes or being significantly underweight

  • Negative body image

  • Presence of binge eating

  • Presence of excessive exercise

  • Presence of purging, laxative, or diuretic use

  • Excessive thoughts surrounding food, body image, and weight


Given the prevalence of these disorders and the seriousness of the psychological and medical sequelae, the prevention of eating disorders is an important area that requires increased attention. Such efforts often involve providing psychoeducational information in school-based settings aimed at reducing unhealthy dieting behavior and enhancing body acceptance, often involving critical analysis of messages conveyed through mass media. Several eating disorder studies have been conducted to investigate the effectiveness of primary prevention programs. To have a significant impact, prevention efforts may need to be delivered to individuals at a younger age (i.e., elementary school). Increased understanding of the complex etiology of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa may be required to develop more comprehensive and effective prevention strategies. In addition, relatively little attention has been devoted to investigating the effectiveness of secondary prevention of eating disorders. As such, effective strategies to assist in identifying individuals who are experiencing initial symptoms of an eating disorder and facilitating appropriate treatment remain an important area to be developed.


Eating Disorders Research Paper, by Anonymous, Accessed on 14th June 2022

What's An Eating Disorder? By Lauren Muhlheim, Updated on May 16, 2022

Eating Disorders, Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff, updated on 12th March 2022


This Blog on 'Eating Disorders' has been contributed by Chrisann D'souza. She is an ambitious and results-driven individual. She loves to learn about the human psyche and hopes to raise awareness about mental health, gender issues, and cruelty to animals.

She is part of the International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology, IJNGP is a peer-reviewed journal that serves as a platform for the enrichment, articulation, and support of the constantly emerging field dedicated to promoting the study and research in Neurolinguistics Gestalt Psychology, and Therapy.