Eating disorders are abnormal patterns of eating that cause significant distress and impairment to everyday life.
Perhaps the most significant predictor of developing an eating disorder is the presence of dieting and other forms of disordered eating.
Other factors that can increase the risk of development include genetic predispositions, having negative experiences or trauma particularly in childhood, pre-existing mental health issues (e.g. anxiety, depression or low self- esteem), having certain rigid beliefs about food and body shape, “black and white” thinking patterns, or even being involved in activities which focus on body image or body shape (e.g. competitive dancing, athletics or modelling). Eating disorders can affect anyone, of any age, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background.
The most common disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED). Other less common presentations include Pica, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) or Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED).
Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is diagnosed when a person is persistently restricting their food intake, has an intense fear of gaining weight and also experiences distortions in how they see their body and weight. People who have AN may also engage in episodes of bingeing, purging or over-exercising. This can lead to rapid weight loss as well as significant physical, psychological and behavioural changes including iron deficiency, loss of menstruation and fertility issues, reduced immunity, digestive problems, osteoporosis and heart problems. The consequences of not treating AN are severe and life threatening and could lead to death as a result of starvation, medical issues or suicide.
Bulimia Nervosa (BN) is diagnosed when a person repeatedly engages in binge eating and then compensates for the binge in some way, including purging, misusing laxatives or diuretics or excessive exercise. A person with BN may often feel out of control with their eating and experience deep shame and disgust in the behaviours that follow the binge. With repeated compensatory behaviours, such as purging, a person with BN may experience severe physical repercussions such as indigestion, heartburn, rupturing od the oesophagus, stomach ulcers, irregular bowel movements, osteoporosis or slowed heartbeat.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is similar to BN in respect to the presence of regular binge episodes, however, those with BED will not use compensatory behaviours such as purging after a binge. Some common signs of BED include eating quite quickly or eating even when feeling full, to the point of discomfort, not wanting to eat in front of others or engaging in secretive eating (e.g. eating in your room or hiding food). The physical effects of BED can include high blood pressure or high cholesterol that can increase the risk of stroke, diabetes or heart disease.
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED), previously known as EDNOS, is diagnosed when a person may be showing symptoms of many of the other eating disorders but may not be exhibiting these symptoms to the degree that meet the criteria for full diagnosis. For example, a person may be engaging in binge episodes but may not be doing it as frequently as someone with BED. OSFED is a very common eating disorder and can be just as serious as the other mentioned eating disorders and have similar physical risks. Regardless of eating disorder diagnosis, it is important for anyone struggling with their eating and/or body image to seek professional support.