Eating disorders are serious psychological conditions that negatively affect a person’s eating habits. The most common eating disorders involve dangerous eating habits that may lead to health complications when not treated accordingly. 

Some people with eating disorders have an intense fear of gaining weight, while others lack control in consuming unusually large amounts of food. Regardless of the type of eating disorder, it all has life-threatening complications that need to be addressed immediately. 

The first week of March is the Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It’s the time where advocates and those who lived with an eating disorder are fighting myths and misconceptions about eating disorders by talking about it.

In this article, you will learn the different types of eating disorders, their complications, and their treatment remedies. Awareness can be a stepping stone that can eradicate judgment. As you understand the different types of eating disorders, you get to become aware. Eventually, your understanding about eating disorders can help spark a healthy conversation.

friends eating at a restaurant

5 Common Types of Eating Disorders & Their Complications

Eating disorders may be caused by low self-esteem, distorted body image perceptions, stress, genetics, and other biological or environmental factors. It may appear during the teen years or in young adults, especially in girls

1. Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that includes restricted food consumption, consumption of a small number of certain foods, or avoidance of eating at all costs. When a person has anorexia nervosa, they are obsessively conscious of their weight. 

People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight when in reality, they are underweight. As a result, they weigh themselves all the time, have a fear of gaining weight, are fixated with weight-loss regimens, exercises excessively, and engages in an unhealthy diet. 

There are two types of anorexia nervosa: restricting types and the purging type. People with the restricting type only focus on fasting, unhealthy diet, and uncontrolled exercise. While people with binge eating or purging types use purging activities like forced vomiting, taking laxatives, and obsessively exercising. 

Complications of Anorexia Nervosa: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia nervosa is the eating disorder with the highest mortality rate. Complications may include brittle hair and nails, malnutrition, imbalanced electrolytes, slowed breathing and pulse, abnormal heart rhythms, infertility, low internal body temperature, feeling cold all the time, and thinning of the bones. The sad truth is, there are many people with anorexia nervosa who die of starvation and suicide.

2. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating (or consuming large amounts of food) followed by purging after eating. Purging can be done through purging behaviors like forced vomiting or with the use of enemas, laxatives, or diuretics. People with bulimia nervosa exhibit a similar mindset of anorexia nervosa people. 

They are also obsessively conscious of their body image and body weight that they engage in excessive exercise. As compared to anorexia nervosa, who has a low body weight, people with bulimia nervosa usually have normal weight. 

Complications of Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia nervosa may lead to major medical problems like severe dehydration from purging, swollen salivary glands, tooth decay, gum problems, worn tooth enamel, inflamed and sore throat. Or worse health problems like kidney failure, heart problems, digestive problems, electrolyte imbalance, irregular menstrual periods in women, mental health complications, or suicide. 

3. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is an eating disorder where the person uncontrollably consumes large amounts of food despite not being hungry. The eating behaviors of a person with a binge eating disorder do not have calorie restriction, purging, or excessive exercise; in fact, it is the opposite. 

A person with a binge eating disorder is not conscious of their body weight, but they feel shame, guilt, and distress when they think about their binge eating behaviors. But they return to their binge eating behaviors still. 

Complications of Binge Eating Disorder: Complications of binge eating disorder include obesity, overweight, high blood pressure, sleep problems, increased blood sugar, increased cholesterol levels, which may lead to heart attack, brain stroke, or Type 2 Diabetes. 


PICA is a type of eating disorder where the person craves and eats non-food substances that are not safe for human consumption. The person may be fond of eating charcoal, pebbles, stone, soap, chalk, metal, clay, dirt, sand, etc. 

The PICA eating disorder affects children mostly because of their curiosity about their surroundings, neglect, abuse, autism, or intellectual disabilities. It also affects pregnant women due to malnutrition or iron-deficiency anemia. PICA is also seen in individuals with mental health problems like schizophrenia. 

Complications of PICA: The complications of PICA may depend on the non-food substances consumed. The usual complications are parasitic infections, teeth injury, intestinal obstruction, diarrhea, iron-deficiency anemia, and chemical toxicity. 

5. Rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is an eating disorder where the person chews the food excessively, swallows the food, and regurgitates it (brings the swallowed food back to the mouth). Then the person may chew or swallow the food again or may spit it out. 

The regurgitation of the food occurs within the first 30 minutes after eating. Unlike reflux, Rumination disorder is a voluntary reflex. 

Complications of Rumination Disorder: The complications of Rumination Disorder include malnutrition, weight loss, stomach ulcers, dehydration, bad breath, tooth decay, aspiration pneumonia, or choking.

Therapies and Treatment of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that, when worsening overtime, need medical interventions as well. That is why treatment and therapies may involve different members of the health care team for any type of eating disorder. When the goal is to overcome and recover from eating disorders, an individualized plan of care by health care professionals should be made. 

A medical doctor is responsible for the care and monitoring of complications and health issues. A psychiatrist may be assigned to the care plan through the prescription of mental health drugs to resolve anxiety and mood problems. A nutritionist may be assigned for weight management, promote normal eating behaviors, and prescribe a meal plan. 

Lastly, persons with eating disorders may need psychotherapy to determine the underlying cause of the eating disorder. A therapist or counselor is essential for the recovery of eating disorders. The therapist can help address low self-esteem issues, insecurities, or any traumatic life events that caused the disorder. 

Related: 5 Tips To Boost Your Self-Esteem

With the help of a professional counselor from the Kentucky Counseling Center, persons with eating disorders may learn to have coping skills. This may lead to a healthy lifestyle, less or no medical complications, regular food intake, and a more productive life.

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