What are the two most serious eating disorders?

What are the Two Most Serious Eating Disorders?

The two most serious eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The most common eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, affect up to 30 million people in the United States. It affects all ages, genders, races and cultures.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and extreme weight loss. People with anorexia nervosa often restrict their food intake and engage in behaviors such as excessive exercise or self induced vomiting in order to lose weight.

Anorexia can lead to severe physical and mental health problems, including malnutrition, organ damage, and depression.

As a recognizable eating disorder, anorexia nervosa symptoms may appear similar other types of eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa and Body Weight

Anorexia nervosa affects approximately 0.5 percent of women. People with anorexia suffer from self-starvation, where significant weight loss of 15 percent or more of healthy body weight is observed.

People who have anorexia nervosa (often simply called “anorexia”) have an extreme fear of weight gain and often diet and exercise excessively. People with anorexia have various to zero eating habits and a distorted body image. They believe that they are overweight despite weight loss and being significantly underweight.

Anorexia Nervosa and Teens

Adolescents are at a time in their life where they are seeking independence. Their bodies are growing and changing, they are seeking freedom and focusing of their body shape, eating habits, and not gaining weight to fit in at school and with their peers.

It is not uncommon for them to try to gain control by restricting their food intake, which could lead to the development of anorexia nervosa. This eating disorder focuses on an obsessive desire to have a slim build and a greater fear of gaining weight.

Teens Hide Their Weight Loss

Teens with anorexia nervosa may try to hide their weight loss by wearing bulky clothing or many layers. They can also look at the body in the mirror frequently, expressing their dissatisfaction vocally or simply with their facial expressions.

If symptoms of anorexia nervosa go unnoticed, continued behaviors can lead to serious physical and mental health complications. As they don't have enough calories and nutrients each day, their bodies begin to break down their own tissues as fuel.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a condition characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging behaviors such as vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or fasting. People with bulimia often experience feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred related to their eating behaviors.

Bulimia nervosa can lead to mental disorders and physical problems such as electrolyte imbalances, digestive problems, and depression.

Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are serious and potentially life-threatening conditions that require prompt and appropriate treatment. Understanding eating disorders requires a doctor or healthcare professional that understands treating eating disorders .

Bulimia Nervosa and Body Weight

Bulimia nervosa, commonly known as “bulimia”, is a serious disorder in which a person overeats and then “purges” to get rid of food. These unhealthy methods include inducing vomiting or abusing laxatives.

When a person with bulimia binge eats, they may feel a lack of control over their behavior. Compared to people with anorexia, people with bulimia tend to maintain a normal or healthy weight rather than being very underweight.

Side effects of bulimia may include:

  • inflammation

  • sore throat

  • inflammation of the salivary glands

  • worn tooth enamel

  • tooth decay

  • acid reflux

  • irritation of the bowel

  • severe dehydration

  • hormonal disturbances

Severe Cases of Bulimia

In severe cases, bulimia can also create an imbalance in electrolyte levels, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium.

Medical monitoring in cases of severe bulimia nervosa is important to identify and treat any possible complications.

Bulimia Nervosa and Teens

Like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that can affect teens and cause them to develop many different health problems if left untreated. When affected by this condition, teens may feel the compulsion to overeat large amounts of food and then vomit to remove them from their bodies.

In most cases, teens tend to participate in this cycle in private, although there are still many signs that parents can observe when assessing their teen's well-being. They may also refuse to eat with others for fear that they may not be able to control their diet or have a private place to purge food.

Family Meals can Cause Distress for Teens with Bulimia Nervosa

Even family meals can cause distress for teens with bulimia nervosa, leading to claims of stomach pain and other problems to avoid eating with everyone. Although teens with bulimia nervosa don't always lack enough calories or lose a lot of weight, this condition can cause serious health problems as it progresses.

Physical and mental health problems commonly occur, so it's incredibly important to seek medical attention immediately after noticing signs and symptoms. Without proper electrolyte balance in their system, teens with bulimia nervosa are at serious risk of organ damage.

Without treatment, this condition can cause kidney failure, cardiac arrest, and many other life-threatening complications. Beyond physical illnesses, this eating disorder can put teens at higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Mental health complications are much more difficult to detect in adolescents and are related to bulimia nervosa. However, parents can seek the help of a mental health professional to evaluate teens who simply appear to be in a bad mood.

Binge Eating Disorder

When it comes to types of eating disorders, binge eating disorders is a prevalent and one of the most common diseases in adolescents . Binge eating is defined as eating a large amount of food in a short period of time associated with a sense of loss of control over what you eat or how much you eat.

People who binge eat, often have more than poor eating habits. This disorder has people consume an excessive amount of food without regard to proper and nutritious food choices. People with a "BED" usually do not restrict calories or use purging behaviors, such as vomiting or excessive exercise, as one might see in bulimia nervosa.

The risk of medical complications such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes is high.

The dangers of binge eating are different from the dangers of bulimia and anorexia, but they can be just as challenging and life-threatening.

Binge Eating Disorder and Teens

Although slightly less common than anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder can affect children and teens of all ages. This condition is also a little more difficult to detect because it only involves overeating without purging behaviors.

Many parents attribute it to growing children needing extra food, but it goes far beyond that reasoning. And without treatment, this condition can cause many physical and mental health effects that can affect teens for life.

There are surefire signs to look for, which give parents the ability to monitor their teens' well-being and detect binge eating disorder. Since teens with binge eating disorder do not purge food after overeating, it is common for many to gain weight and even become obese.

They may express dissatisfaction with their body weight or body shape or, in general, have low self-esteem. Their feelings of shame and guilt can also intensify, causing them to withdraw from family and friends.

Teens may even refuse to participate in their favorite activities, especially if the event is focused on food in any way.

There are other types of eating disorders that may not be as common. These include pica, rumination disorder, and orthorexia.

Pica Eating Disorder

Pica is an eating disorder that involves poor and fixated eating habits of things that are not considered food and that do not provide nutritional value.

People with a Pica eating disorder want non-food substances such as:

  • ice

  • dirt

  • chalk

  • soap

  • paper

  • hair

  • cloth

  • wool

  • pebbles

  • laundry detergent

  • cornstarch

Pica is most commonly seen in people with conditions that affect daily functioning, including intellectual disabilities, developmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, and mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.

Rumination Syndrome

Rumination syndrome describes a condition in which a person regurgitates food that they have chewed and swallowed previously. A person may then chews the regurgitated food again then swallow or spit it out.

Rumination disorder can develop during childhood or adulthood. In infants, it tends to develop between 3 and 12 months of age and often goes away on its own.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

OSFED stands for "other specified feeding or eating disorder". People with OSFED have symptoms that are similar to one or more eating disorders, but may not meet all the criteria for these conditions.


Orthorexia is mentioned in the media and scientific studies, yet the American Psychiatric Association who produces the DSM with all mental diagnosis does not yet recognize it as an independent eating disorder.

According to the National Institute of Heath -
Orthorexia nervosa is perhaps best summarized as an obsession with healthy eating with associated restrictive behaviors.

People with orthorexia rarely focus on losing weight. Instead the focus is on one's self-esteem, identity, or satisfaction depends on how well you adhere to your self-imposed diet rules.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

It is important to seek early treatment for eating disorders, as the risk of medical complications and suicide is high.

Without treatment, eating disorders can lead to greater medical complications and can be life-threatening.

Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that adversely affect your health, emotions, and ability to function in important areas of life.

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent alterations in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. These can be very serious conditions that affect physical, psychological and social function.

In Closing

Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive eating disorder, other specific eating and eating disorder, pica disorder and rumination.

There is a commonly accepted misconception that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Obsessions with food, body weight and body shape can also indicate an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe alterations in people's eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Concern about food, body weight, and shape may also indicate an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can often develop in people with pre-existing psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Eating disorders are often associated with concerns about food, normal weight, or shape, or with anxiety about weight gain, or obsession with healthy eating.

Common eating disorders were discussed in this article, however, if you are seeking information about ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) the new name for an old disorder. The term ARFID has replaced the term “feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood,” a diagnosis previously reserved for children under age 7. We will cover this in a future post.

Brianna Reichenbach
Brianna Reichenbach

Devoted beer fan. Wannabe web maven. Lifelong tv geek. Infuriatingly humble travel guru. Devoted bacon advocate.

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