What's the most serious eating disorder?

What's the Most Serious Eating Disorder?

Every eating disorder is serious and can have severe physical and psychological consequences.

However, anorexia nervosa is often considered the most serious eating disorder due to its potentially life-threatening effects.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a distorted body image and an intense fear of weight gain, which can lead to picky eating, severe food restriction, skipping meals, severe calorie restriction and significant weight loss.

People with anorexia may also engage in other eating patterns and behaviors to control their weight gain, such as excessive exercise, purging, and self induced vomiting.

Those developing eating disorders can suffer physical consequences. Anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest mental illnesses. This life threatening but common eating disorder has an increased risk of losing basic body function.

Anorexia nervosa medical complications can be severe and include malnutrition, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, and damage to vital organs. Anorexia nervosa can also have serious psychological effects, with mental and behavioral signs such as depression, anxiety, social isolation, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

This article will address all types of eating disorders, and discuss ways to find help if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder.

What is the Difference Between Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two different types of eating disorders, but share some similarities.

The main differences between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa include:

Weight loss -

People with anorexia nervosa typically experience significant weight loss due to their restrictive eating, while those with bulimia nervosa may maintain a relatively stable weight or have fluctuations in weight gain due to binge eating and purging behaviors.

Eating Patterns -

Individuals with anorexia nervosa typically have extremely restricted eating and patterns of eating. Those with bulimia nervosa often engage in cycles of binge eating followed by purging behaviors. Those with bulimia nervosa can maintain a normal weight and even a healthy weight. The eating habits of large amounts of food and what foods are consumed with large amounts of food is the core of this eating disorder.

Body Image -

People with anorexia nervosa often have a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, while those with bulimia nervosa may be more concerned with maintaining their body weight or body shape than gain weight.

Physical Health Consequences -

Anorexia nervosa can lead to significant risk factors. Biological factors are also considered as well as family history. The anorexia eating disorder is often accompanied with physical and medical complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances.

Bulimia nervosa can cause problems such as dental issues, electrolyte imbalances, and gastrointestinal problems due to bingeing and purging behaviors.

Diagnosis -

Anorexia nervosa is typically diagnosed when an individual has a significantly low body weight and restrictive eating, while bulimia nervosa is diagnosed when an individual engages in recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as purging or excessively exercising.

Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are serious mental disorders that require a mental health professional help for diagnosis and treatment. Many are diagnosed in young adulthood and it is suggested to seek treatment early for treating eating disorders.

5 Common Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can affect individuals of any gender, age, or ethnicity, and can have serious physical and psychological consequences if left untreated. Those struggling with an eating disorder will usually fall into one of the 5 common eating disorders below. There are times when a person can have more than one eating disorder at a time.

The 5 common types of eating disorders, including:

1 - Anorexia Nervosa:

characterized by a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, which can lead to significant weight loss due to calorie restriction.

2 - Bulimia Nervosa:

characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives or diuretics.

3 - Binge Eating Disorder:

characterized by recurrent episodes of uncontrollable eating, often accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and distress.

4 - Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):

characterized by a persistent lack of interest in eating, avoidance of certain foods or textures, and/or an overall limited food intake that results in significant weight loss or malnutrition.

5 - Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED):

a diagnosis given when an individual experiences significant eating disorder symptoms, but does not meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific eating disorder.

What is the Difference Between Binge Eating and a Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating refers to the act of consuming an excessive amount of food within a short period of time, often accompanied by a sense of loss of control. While many people may experience occasional binge eating episodes, it becomes a concern when it becomes a pattern of behavior and affects a person's physical and emotional well-being.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a specific type of eating disorder that is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, typically without compensatory behaviors such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise.

Individuals with BED often experience feelings of guilt, shame, and distress related to their binge eating behaviors, and may use food as a way to cope with emotional stress.

While binge eating is a symptom that can be present in various eating disorders, a binge eating disorder is a diagnosis that is specific to recurrent binge eating without compensatory behaviors.

A binge eating disorder is typically associated with significant psychological distress and can have serious health consequences if left untreated, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

What is a restrictive food intake disorder?

A Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (RFID), also known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), is a type of eating disorder characterized by an ongoing lack of interest in eating or an avoidance of certain foods or food groups, leading to significant weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and/or impaired psychosocial functioning.

Unlike other eating disorders, people with RFID do not have:

  • body image distortion

  • fear of gaining weight

  • desire to lose weight

Instead, they have a limited range of entire food groups, foods consumed, and accepted foods to eat. The aversion can be caused by sensory sensitivities, texture aversions, concerns about the taste, smell or appearance of certain foods or a lack of appetite.

This can lead to restrictive eating that result in malnutrition, weight loss, and significant physical and psychological problems.

RFID is more common in children and adolescents but can occur in men and women of all ages. It can be challenging to diagnose this disorder, treatment is often difficult as there is no clear explanation for the food avoidance or limitations.

Treatment for RFID typically involves a team-based approach, including a medical provider, a registered dietitian, and a mental health provider who can help the individual learn new coping strategies and gradually reintroduce foods into their diet to improve their nutritional intake and overall health.

Treating an Eating Disorders

There are several treatment options available for eating disorders, including:


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a common treatment for eating disorders. It can help individuals address the underlying emotional, psychological, and social factors that contribute to their disordered eating behaviors.

Different types of therapy may be used, including:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT),

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Family-Based Therapy (FBT)


Certain medications may be used to treat eating and other mental disorders together, such as antidepressants or antipsychotics. These medications can help alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions that often co-occur with eating disorders.

Nutritional Counseling:

Registered dietitians can provide specialized counseling to help individuals develop healthy eating habits, meal planning, and a balanced diet. This is often an important part of eating disorder treatment, especially for those with restrictive or binge-eating behaviors.

Support Groups:

Support groups can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals with eating disorders to share their experiences, gain insight and learn coping strategies from others who are going through similar struggles.

Medical Monitoring:

In some cases, individuals with severe eating disorders may require medical monitoring and hospitalization to address health complications such as malnutrition or electrolyte imbalances.

The best course of treatment will depend on the individual's specific needs, symptoms, and circumstances. A team-based approach that includes medical professionals, mental health providers, and registered dietitians is often the most effective way to address eating disorders.

In Closing

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 20 million people, half women and half men will develop some disordered eating or eating disorder in their lifetime, An eating disorder can be considered as a mental disorder in which the person suffering from it shows a persistent pattern of unhealthy eating.

Although you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder, we hope that by learning about an eating disorder, you are prepared to guide someone if help is needed.

The National Eating Disorders Association has chat, text, and a 24/7 hotline number for those in need. (800) 931-2237

Brianna Reichenbach
Brianna Reichenbach

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

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