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Understanding eating disorders can be difficult unless you have been through one yourself. In most cases, the general public awareness regarding these psychiatric issues extends only to anorexia and bulimia. It fails to acknowledge the existence of multiple other types of eating disorders that continue to affect thousands of people worldwide. With up to 12 different types of eating disorders with overlapping symptoms, diagnosing a particular one often gets cloudy. Moreover, because eating disorders continue to morph and change with time, one person can move between multiple diagnoses at different points in life, especially if treatment is not undertaken.

Whether you are here to know more about your diagnosis or to support a loved one who has recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you have plenty to learn. Continue reading to learn about different eating disorders types and how to recognise them.

Mentioned below are the types of eating disorders UK as recognised by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa comes into most people’s minds when they hear the term “eating disorder.” As the most well-known type of eating disorder, it is characterised by restriction of food intake in several ways. For example, an individual may limit the amount of food or calories they consume or stick to only a particular type of food, like carrot sticks. People with anorexia are generally underweight; however, it is not a diagnostic criterion. Some may exhibit all typical behaviours of this issue without significant weight loss. Others often indulge in purging behaviours (a binge-purge subtype of anorexia) which means getting rid of the food after an overeating episode, usually by self-induced vomiting. Other symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Refusal to acknowledge how low body weight can harm the body and health
  • Absence of menstruation in women due to low-fat content
  • Increased strain on the cardiovascular system, leading to heart damage
  • Association of body weight with self-esteem and self-image

Bulimia Nervosa

Just like anorexia, bulimia tends to hit adolescents and young adults the most, specifically in women. The condition involves severe purging behaviours to reduce the number of calories consumed. This purging may occur through various compensatory behaviours, such as excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, diuretics and laxatives, etc. It is important to remember that people with bulimia are different from the ones with binge-purge sub-type of anorexia since the former tend to maintain normal body weight while the latter is primarily underweight. Moreover, bulimics do not restrict their food intake regularly as anorexics.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder was formally introduced to the world by the DSM-5 in 2015. People suffering from BED tend to lose control over their eating. As a result, they frequently consume large quantities of food in one sitting, much more than an ordinary person. However, it is different from bulimia in that no compensatory behaviour is involved. As a result, most people with BED are overweight.

Muscle Dysmorphia

Contrary to most eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia affects men more than women. Characterised by a disruptive obsession with physique and musculature, it causes an individual to fixate on acquiring the perfect body through severe food modifications.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders

Also known as OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorders include all other types of eating disorders that do not fit in any of the categories mentioned above. People with atypical bulimia or anorexia and other unofficial eating disorder diagnoses (described below) fall into this category.

Seven Unofficial Eating Disorders

In addition to the five official eating disorder diagnoses described above, seven additional “unofficial” types are yet to be recognised by any diagnostic manual. However, many psychologists and doctors continue using them to communicate more clearly with each other and patients. These include:

Compulsive Over Eating (COE)

COE is quite similar to BED, except that people with the former diagnosis do not binge in episodes. Instead, they are more likely to eat large quantities of food throughout the day.

Pregorexia

Pregorexia describes the urge to lose weight during pregnancy. Sometimes, the weight loss plans can get too extreme that they endanger the life of the mother and the baby. Pregorexia can lead to coronary heart disease, stroke, depression, hypertension, and low birth weight if left untreated.

Drunkorexia

Drunkorexia combines an eating disorder with alcoholism. The affected individual attempts to restrict their food intake, indulges in frequent purging to save calories, and utilises this window to drink alcohol. Without treatment, drunkorexia often leads to severe malnutrition.

Prader Willi Syndrome

Characterised by compulsive eating and consequent obesity, Prader Willi syndrome is well-rooted in genetics. As an inherited disease, it includes symptoms such as poor feeding, weak muscles, and slow development in children. It also induces an insatiable hunger in many children, putting them at a high risk of developing diabetes.

Orthorexia Nervosa

Identified by Steven Bratman, orthorexia nervosa forces a patient to become overly obsessed with clean eating, sometimes to the extent that it starts affecting their life.

Diabulimia

This occurs when someone who has diabetes uses their prescription insulin to try to induce weight loss.

Selective Eating Disorder

In simpler words, selective eating disorder describes picky eating to a debilitating level. It causes people to become so selective about their food that they only stick to one or two meals and eventually fall sick.

The treatment program for an eating disorder varies depending on the type and severity of the issue at hand. However, a generic outline of what a typical treatment regimen would look like is mentioned below:

Nutritional Therapy

One of the earliest and the most important tasks of an eating disorder treatment program is to repair the lost weight and deteriorating health. To accomplish this, nutritional therapy is offered to all clients under the supervision of a registered dietician. A dietician assesses each client’s nutritional status, food preferences, and medical needs and collaborates with them to develop a meal plan. The characteristics of an ideal meal plan include its ability to provide the needed nutrition and exposure to the feared foods to improve flexibility.

Medical Treatment

A certified medical doctor handles medical interventions for clients with all eating disorders with special training in eating disorders treatment. This program aims to identify and address any physical issues induced due to altered and potentially unhealthy eating habits. Some common elements of medical treatment include:

  • Monitoring of the vital signs
  • Weight tracking
  • Laboratory tests
  • Additional testing to check the bone density and heart function
  • Management of all physical issues, such as heart problems, digestive distress, etc.

Psychological Treatment

While there are multiple psychological therapies for eating disorders, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most popular. CBT has proven to be particularly effective for people with both types of anorexia, binge eating disorder, and other specified eating disorders. This therapy focuses on addressing the symptoms while inducing a patient’s behavioural change. Some common elements of CBT include:

  • Meal planning
  • Challenging dietary rules
  • Self-monitoring, for example, through a food diary
  • Establishment of regular eating
  • Disruption of dangerous dietary behaviours, such as compensatory behaviours, binge eating, or crash dieting
  • Addressing issues related to body image
  • Relapse prevention
  • Exposure to the “forbidden” food
  • Reducing the over-evaluation of weight and shape

So far, CBT has provided excellent results in adults with eating disorders. When it comes to adolescents, especially the ones suffering from a particular type of anorexia, the treatment of choice often includes family-based treatment (FBT). FBT refers to manualised therapy provided in the form of weekly sessions with a trained psychotherapist in the presence of the entire family. Parents are particularly encouraged to actively participate in the treatment and support their children as they work on normalising their eating behaviours. In addition to FBT and CBT, some other forms of psychotherapy routinely used to manage different types of eating disorders include: 

  • Dialectical behaviour therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Mindfulness-based eating awareness training
  • Special supportive clinical management
  • Integrative cognitive-affective therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment to therapy
  • Guided self-help

The list mentioned above is not exhaustive; however, it successfully demonstrates that multiple psychotherapies are available for managing all types of eating disorders. So if you or a loved one are suffering from one, do not be afraid to seek help.

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