Common Types of Eating Disorders and Behaviors

Group therapy session discussing Common Types of Eating Disorders

Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

The world of eating disorders is vast. With so many conditions, it can be difficult to find straightforward information on the common ones. To counteract that, we’ve listed Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge-Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating which are a few of the most common types of eating disorders and behaviors, along with their symptoms and information about treatment.

Common Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is one eating disorder that most people have heard of. People with anorexia often starve themselves in order to achieve an unattainable ideal of thinness. This condition, like many eating disorders, tends to affect more women than men.

People who are at risk for anorexia may be those who have been through abusive or traumatic experiences, have been bullied, have low self-esteem, live in a society that values thin people, and may already have mental health concerns. Conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression are often linked to anorexia.

Symptoms of anorexia can include:

  • Rapid and excessive weight loss
  • Eating very little or eating and purging
  • Being obsessed with keeping caloric intake low
  • Over-exercising
  • Drinking a lot of water to ease hunger pangs
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair loss
  • Developing a thin layer of hair across the body
  • Wearing a lot of layers even in hot weather
  • Constantly being “busy” at meal times
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People with anorexia experience obsessive-compulsive thoughts around food, eating, and weight. They think about food a lot, both about restricting food intake and often collecting recipes they may not use. They may also engage in purging behaviors or laxative abuse to attain a lower weight.

Long-term effects of anorexia can include infertility, organ damage, heart failure, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is characterized by eating large amounts of food rapidly and then purging in some way. This can include abusing laxatives, vomiting, and over-exercising.

As with anorexia nervosa, people most at risk for bulimia nervosa may be those who have a history of trauma or abuse, struggle with mental health issues, have low self-esteem, and/or are women living in thin-praising societies.

Symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Binge-eating
  • Overeating
  • Frequently using the bathroom right after eating
  • Avoiding eating in public
  • Discolored teeth and other dental problems
  • Bloating
  • Swelling around the cheeks or jaw
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Fainting
  • Poor impulse control
  • Mood swings

Long-term effects of bulimia can include heart attack, rectal prolapse, organ failure, self-harm, suicide attempts, and death.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Depressed young woman thinking about Genetics and DepressionThis condition is similar to bulimia with one notable exception—there is no purging. Instead, a person feels unable to stop themselves from eating too much. Because of this, they gain weight and often move into the obese weight categories quickly.

People most at risk for developing binge-eating disorder may be those who have low self-esteem, a history of dieting, and a history of mental illness themselves or in their families.

While each person’s symptoms may vary, common signs of binge-eating disorder include:

  • Eating a large amount of food quickly
  • Continuing to eat when full
  • Eating alone or in secret
  • Dieting frequently, often to extremes
  • Failure to accomplish tasks or accomplish quality work at school or work
  • Obesity and related conditions (e.g., Type 2 diabetes)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt over eating
  • Acting or seeming distracted

Long-term consequences of binge-eating disorder can include losing a social life, becoming isolated, having an upset stomach, losing jobs, failing classes, having suicidal ideations, or attempting suicide.

Compulsive Overeating

While compulsive overeating is not a clinical disorder, it is a common behavior associated with multiple eating disorders.

Symptoms include:

  • Eating more food than others in the same period of time
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Using unhealthy food to soothe uncomfortable emotions
  • Guilt over binge-eating
  • Lack of control over eating habits
  • Hoarding and hiding food
  • Weight fluctuations, particularly weight gain
  • Self-esteem and body image issues
  • Increased symptoms of depression

Long-term effects of compulsive overeating can include depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.


young woman with illusion of Control in the Development of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be difficult to manage, and therefore require treatment that is specifically designed to address the specific symptom of the disorder. Developing a healthy relationship with food takes some time. Relapses happen. After all, we all have to eat daily as a means of survival.

Thankfully, there is help. A well-rounded, holistic approach has been shown to be most effective for treating eating disorders. Managing other existing mental disorders like anxiety can help ease the intensity of eating disorder symptoms.

Various forms of therapy, such as those that involve animals and art, can help, too. Lastly, meeting with other people who struggle with an eating disorder and learning that you’re not alone can make all the difference.

About Our Sponsor:

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At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and adolescent girls who are living with eating disorders, substance use disorders, and various mental health concerns. Our residential treatment and partial hospitalization programming (PHP) help our residents achieve lifelong recovery by combining clinically excellent treatment with spiritual and emotional growth. We provide care that is holistic, personalized, and nurturing, empowering women to be active participants in their wellness journeys.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 14, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on May 14, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

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