Updated on April 15, 2024
8 min read

Eating Disorders: Types, Diagnosis, and Treatment Paths

Eating disorders are serious conditions with a potentially devastating impact on someone's physical and mental well-being. If you recognize any of its signs in yourself or someone you love, know that recovery is possible with the right support and treatment.

This article will guide you through the different types of eating disorders, including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and others. You'll learn about the common signs and symptoms, how eating disorders are diagnosed, and the various treatment options that can help someone along the path to healing.

It's important to remember that eating disorders don't discriminate. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. If you're struggling, don't hesitate to seek professional help.

5 Types of Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that involve unhealthy eating patterns and an intense focus on food, weight, or body shape. Here's an overview of the most common types:

1. Anorexia Nervosa

People with Anorexia Nervosa severely restrict their food intake, leading to dangerously low body weight. They have an intense fear of gaining weight and may see themselves as overweight, even if they're not.

Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Physical Changes: Extreme weight loss, looking very thin, feeling tired and weak, dry skin, hair loss, missed periods (in women and girls), constipation, always feeling cold.
  • Changes in Behavior: Intense fear of gaining weight, obsession with food, calories, and dieting, skipping meals or eating very little, exercising excessively, denying they're hungry, wearing baggy clothes.

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa involves repeated binge eating episodes (consuming large amounts of food in a short time), followed by unhealthy behaviors to try to avoid gaining weight. These behaviors might include vomiting, taking laxatives, excessive exercise, or fasting.

Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

  • Physical Changes: Sore throat, puffy cheeks, worn down teeth, stomach problems, feeling dehydrated or dizzy.
  • Changes in Behavior: Eating unusually large amounts in a short time (binge eating), disappearing to the bathroom after meals (to throw up), using laxatives or other medications to lose weight, extreme focus on weight and body, over-exercising.

3. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

People with BED also have recurrent binge-eating episodes. However, they don't try to get rid of the calories afterward. BED often leads to weight gain and can cause feelings of shame and distress.

Signs of BED

  • Physical Changes: Eating very quickly or until feeling uncomfortably full, weight gain and changes, stomach problems.
  • Changes in Behavior: Feeling out of control when eating, eating even when not hungry or when already full, eating alone or in secret due to shame, experiencing feelings of disgust or guilt after eating.

4. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED)

This category includes eating disorders that don't fit perfectly into the above categories but still cause significant problems. Some examples are eating disorders where someone loses a lot of weight but doesn't become severely underweight, or purging without binge eating.

Signs of OSFED

These disorders share some of the signs of the eating disorders discussed above. However, they don't fit the exact definitions of anorexia, bulimia, or BED.

5. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) 

ARFID doesn't stem from body image concerns. People with ARFID might avoid certain foods due to their texture and smell or because they fear a negative consequence of eating them (like choking). This can lead to serious nutritional problems.

Signs of ARFID

  • Physical Changes: Significant weight loss or failure to gain weight in children, nutritional deficiencies.
  • Changes in Behavior: Avoiding certain foods because of how they look, smell, or taste or because of a fear something bad will happen when eating them. Lack of interest in food in general.

Not everyone with an eating disorder will experience all of these signs or experience them in the same way. Some signs might be subtle, and others more obvious.

If you're even a little bit worried about yourself or someone you love, please seek professional help. Eating disorders are serious, but they are treatable. The earlier someone gets the right support, the better their chance of a full and lasting recovery.

Early Warnings Signs of Eating Disorders 

Early warning signs of eating disorders in adolescents and young adults encompass a range of behavioral, physical, and psychological indicators. Recognizing these signs early can be crucial for timely intervention and treatment. 

Here's a comprehensive overview of the early warning signs across various sources:

  • An intense focus on weight loss, food, calories, and dieting, often eliminating whole food groups
  • Making excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food and developing food rituals like eating foods in certain orders or excessive chewing
  • Obsession with daily exercise, even when injured, tired, or sick
  • Rapid weight loss or gain, changes in shape, and body dissatisfaction
  • For females, primary or secondary amenorrhea (not starting or the loss of the menstrual cycle)
  • Gastrointestinal complaints such as stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux, etc.
  • Seeing themselves as overweight despite being underweight or focusing excessively on perceived flaws in appearance
  • Experiencing significant emotional changes, including irritability or depression

These signs can vary widely among people, and not everyone with an eating disorder will exhibit all of these symptoms. If you notice several warning signs in an adolescent or young adult, approach the subject sensitively and seek professional help. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve the chances of recovery.


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How Are Eating Disorders Diagnosed?

Eating disorders can be complex. Only a qualified healthcare professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and create the right treatment plan for you or someone you love.

If you're worried that you or someone you care about might have an eating disorder, it's important to seek professional help. Here's how healthcare professionals go about diagnosing these conditions:

  1. Clinical Interview: A mental health professional will ask detailed questions about your eating habits, thoughts, feelings, behaviors related to food, and body image.
  2. Physical Examination: A doctor will perform a physical exam to assess for any signs of malnutrition or other health problems caused by eating disorders. This could include checking your weight and vital signs.
  3. Laboratory Tests: Blood tests or other tests may be ordered to check your nutritional levels, electrolyte balance, and organ function.
  4. Psychological Assessment: This includes evaluations to understand your overall mental health, including any co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, or substance misuse.
  5. Use of Diagnostic Criteria (DSM-5): Healthcare providers use the DSM-5 (the official guidebook for diagnosing mental health conditions), which outlines the specific symptoms and behaviors that define different eating disorders.
  6. Screening Tools: Brief questionnaires, like the SCOFF questionnaire, may be used to quickly assess the likelihood of an eating disorder.
  7. Assessment of Medical History: Your doctor will review your medical history to rule out other potential causes of weight changes or health concerns.
  8. Family History: Your doctor may ask about your family's history of eating disorders or other mental health conditions since there can be a genetic link.

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Treatment for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are treatable, but recovery takes time and commitment. Successful treatment usually involves a combination of strategies, tailored to the specific eating disorder and the individual's needs.


Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a vital part of eating disorder treatment. Common approaches include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps people change unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns that contribute to their eating disorder. It's considered very effective for bulimia and binge eating disorder.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): IPT focuses on improving relationships that might be playing a role in the eating disorder.
  • Family-Based Therapy (FBT): Especially helpful for teens with anorexia, FBT empowers parents to help their children get their eating back on track.

Nutritional Counseling

Registered dietitians play a crucial role in helping people with eating disorders. They provide education about healthy eating and nutrition, help individuals create balanced meal plans, and work with them to develop a positive and healthy relationship with food.

Medical Care and Monitoring

Doctors play an important role in treating eating disorders, especially if there are physical complications. They may:

  • Check vital signs (heart rate, etc.) and overall health
  • Order blood tests
  • Prescribe medications for co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression


While there's no medication specifically for anorexia, medications can sometimes help with reducing binging and purging. They can also help with mental health conditions that often occur alongside eating disorders, like depression or anxiety.


Sometimes, if an eating disorder is very severe, a person might need to be hospitalized.  This can happen if they are very malnourished or at risk of harming themselves.

Support Groups and Self-Help Strategies

Connecting with others in recovery and learning self-help skills can offer support and encouragement throughout the treatment process.

Prevention and Early Intervention

Teaching young people about healthy body image and positive eating habits can help prevent eating disorders. The earlier someone gets treatment, the better their chances of recovery.

Support and Resources for Eating Disorders

Here are some pages that offer resources for people struggling with eating disorders:

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Updated on April 15, 2024
9 sources cited
Updated on April 15, 2024
  1. “Eating Disorders.” Nyc.gov, 2024. 
  2. “Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 2024.
  3. Iqbal, A., & Rehman, A. “Binge Eating Disorder.” National Library of Medicine, 2022. 
  4. Jain, A., & Yilanli, M. “Bulimia Nervosa.” National Library of Medicine, 2023.
  5. Kass et al. “Psychological treatments for eating disorders.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 2013. 
  6. “DSM 5 Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders.” McCallum Place Eating Disorder Center, 2017.
  7. “Treatment - Anorexia nervosa.” NHS Choices, 2024. 
  8. Schaefer et al. “A systematic review of instruments for the assessment of eating disorders among adults.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 2021.
  9. “Types of Eating Disorders.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2024.

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