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Eating Disorders: Range of Psychiatric Conditions Leading to Unhealthy Eating Patterns

Between 2000 and 2018, the prevalence of eating disorders rose globally

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

INDIA: Eating healthy is necessary to maintain a sustainable weight and achieve health goals. Eating disorders are at the top of the list of “disorders” that can occur in life as a result of failing to maintain a balanced diet and appropriate lifestyle.

In order to fit into today’s glamorous world, people adopt various diet fads, with some going to extremes and indulging in unhealthy eating patterns such as self-starvation or excessive eating.

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Although the word “eating” is in the moniker, eating disorders are about much more than food. Officially categorized as “feeding and eating disorders” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), “eating disorders” refers to a group of complex mental health conditions that can cause serious impairments in health and social conditions.

Between 2000 and 2018, the prevalence of eating disorders rose globally, rising from 3.4% to 7.8%, says the 2019 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Around the world, 70 million individuals struggle with eating disorders, the National Eating Disorders Association says.

What is an eating disorder?

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Eating disorders are a range of psychiatric conditions that can lead to the development of unhealthy eating patterns. They might begin with obsessions with food, body shape, or bodyweight.

In severe cases, they can have a major negative impact on health and, if untreated, can even result in death. In fact, they are among the most deadly mental diseases, second only to opioid overdose.

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“Eating disorders are complex disorders characterised by major disruptions in a person’s eating patterns as well as related thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that impede physical, psychological, and psychosocial functioning. They are often life-threatening,” said Dr. Aparna Ramakrishnan, Psychiatry Consultant at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai.

People suffering from eating disorders can have a range of symptoms. Some common symptoms are food binges, extreme restrictions on food, and purging behaviors like vomiting or excessive exercise.

Types of eating disorders

Eating disorders are a collection of closely related conditions involving weight issues and extreme food, but each disorder has its own set of symptoms and diagnostic standards. Here are the six most prevalent eating disorders and their symptoms:

Anorexia nervosa

The most well-known eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. It commonly develops during adolescence or early adulthood and affects more women than men.

People suffering with anorexia generally perceive themselves as overweight. They severely restrict their calorie consumption, avoid eating particular foods, and monitor their weight constantly.

However, it’s essential to note that body weight should not be the central focus when diagnosing anyone with anorexia, as using body mass index as a diagnostic indicator is outdated because individuals who are labeled as “normal” or “overweight” can have the same risks.

For instance, in atypical anorexia, a person may satisfy the criteria for anorexia but not be underweight despite having significant weight loss. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors are also present.

Anorexia is classified into two subtypes: the binge-and-purge type and the restricting type.

People with the binge-eating and purging type may consume huge quantities of food or very little. In both of the cases, people purge after eating by engaging in activities such as puking, using laxatives or diuretics, or engaging in strenuous exercise.

Body damage from anorexia can be severe. Over time, those who have it might develop brittle hair and nails, thin bones, and sterility. Anorexia can cause brain, heart, or multiple organ failure and death in severe instances.

Bulimia nervosa

Another prevalent eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. Bulimia appears to be less prevalent in males than in women and, like anorexia, typically develops during adolescence and the early stages of adulthood.

Individuals with bulimia frequently consume disproportionately large quantities of food in a particular amount of time. Usually, a binge eating episode lasts until the individual becomes excruciatingly full. The individual experiencing a binge typically feels helpless to stop eating or regulate their intake.

Although binges can occur with any kind of food, they most frequently happen with foods that the person usually avoids. Bulimics then make an effort to purge in order to make up for the calories they have already ingested and to feel better.

Some bulimia side effects include a sore throat, worn dental enamel, swollen salivary glands, tooth decay, gut irritation, acid reflux, hormonal imbalances, and extreme dehydration. In extreme instances, bulimia can also lead to an electrolyte imbalance, including low levels of sodium, potassium, and calcium. A stroke or heart attack may result from this.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder and one of the most prevalent chronic conditions among teenagers. It usually starts during adolescence and the early stages of adulthood, though it can develop later on.

The symptoms of this disorder are identical to those of bulimia or binge eating, one of the subtypes of anorexia. For instance, they frequently feel out of control while bingeing and consume unusually large quantities of food in comparatively short amounts of time.

People with binge eating disorders do not limit calories or engage in purging behaviors to make up for their binges, such as excessive exercise or vomiting.

People who suffer from binge eating disorders frequently overeat and may not choose nutrient-dense foods. This could raise their chance of developing health issues like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.


Pica is an eating disorder that entails eating things that are not regarded as food and that do not provide any nutritional value. People who have pica desire non-food items like ice, soil, dirt, chalk, paper, soap hair, wool, cloth, laundry detergent, pebbles, and cornstarch. Pica can strike adults, kids, and teenagers.

It is most frequently observed in people with illnesses that have a negative impact on everyday functioning, such as intellectual disabilities, developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder, and mental health conditions like schizophrenia.

Pica patients may be more likely to become ill, contract infections, damage their digestive tracts, or lack proper nourishment. Pica might result in death, depending on the drugs consumed.

Rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is another recently recognized eating disorder. It refers to a situation where a person regurgitates food that they have already chewed and swallowed, re-chews it, and then either re-swallows it or spits it out.

Usually, this ruminating happens within the first 30 minutes following a dinner. This condition may appear in a baby, kid, or adult. It typically occurs between 3 and 12 months of age in infants and frequently goes away on its own. Therapy is frequently necessary to treat the disease in both children and adults.

Rumination disorder in infants, if left untreated, can lead to significant malnutrition and weight loss, both of which are potentially fatal. Adults suffering from this disorder might limit how much they eat, particularly in public. They might drop weight and become underweight as a result of this.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

An old disorder now goes by the term “avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).” The term has taken the place of “feeding disorder of infancy and early childhood,” which was originally a diagnosis only for kids under the age of seven.

Due to a lack of interest in food or a dislike for particular tastes, scents, colors, textures, or temperatures, people with this condition have disturbed eating patterns. It’s crucial to remember that ARFID goes beyond typical behaviors like picky eating in infants or reduced food intake in senior citizens.

How eating disorders affect women more

Although eating disorders can affect anyone at any point in life, some studies indicate that women tend to experience them more.

In the U.S. from 2001–2004, eating disorders were more common among young females (3.8%) than males (1.5%), says a 2010 Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

As women are more susceptible to societal pressures and tend to be more affected by negative perceptions of physical appearance, they try to enhance their physical appearance by cutting their diet and engaging in excessive exercise, which can lead them towards eating disorders.

The growth of mental health disorders in women, including eating disorders, is also influenced by the objectification, sexualization, and gender stereotypes of women. Although little research has been done on this, studies have shown that factors other than societal differences may also play a role in the emergence of eating disorders in women.

Eating disorder treatment plans 

Plans for treating eating disorders are individually created for each patient and may combine different treatments. The typical course of treatment includes frequent doctor checkups and talk therapy.

Early therapy for eating disorders is crucial because there is a high risk of medical complications and suicide. Options for treatment include:

Medications: Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications may be prescribed by doctors to people with eating disorders to handle anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Nutritional counselling: A qualified dietician can help people with eating disorders by creating nourishing food plans that will help them develop better eating habits. They also offer some advice on how to plan meals, buy for groceries, and prepare food.

Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that aids in understanding and altering the underlying issue and thought pattern that may have given rise to undesirable emotions and behaviors, may be helpful for people with eating disorders. CBT sessions can be carried out either alone or in a group.

Family therapy: This treatment helps parents or other caregivers understand the issue and teaches them how to help the affected person adopt healthier eating practices.

Also Read: The Possible Connection between Mental Health and Oral Health


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