What Are The Different Types Of Eating Disorders, and How Can Registered Dietitians Help?

By Ayanna DeVance, reviewed by Lauren Ranley, MS, RD, LDN

Eating disorders are not usually noticeable. Because an individual may not “look” like they have an eating disorder or their symptoms may not match the diagnosis, eating disorders sometimes go undiagnosed. Eating disorders come in a variety of forms and don’t discriminate against age, gender, or body type. They can affect people of all ages, from children to the elderly.

Diet trends come and go, making it challenging to spot problematic eating patterns. Delaying treatment for an eating disorder has severe consequences and might put one’s health at danger.

What Are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa patients severely reduce food intake to the point of starvation. Concerns about one’s appearance contribute to anxiety over one’s weight, the calorie content of food, and emotions of control over one’s eating. Excessive exercise is often used to control weight and body size, as well as to compensate for perceived overeating. The restrictive habits associated with AN might result in binge eating and purging cycles.

People with anorexia nervosa often develop food rituals, and the inability to follow these rituals can cause extreme anxiety. Examples include precisely measuring food, chopping food into very small portions, and chewing food thoroughly.

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms: 

  • Refusal to eat and denial of hunger 
  • Fear of being “fat” is overwhelming 
  • Refusal to eat in front of others and a desire to eat alone 
  • Isolation and withdrawal from family and friends 
  • Irritability 
  • Obsession with exercise and diet 
  • Abuse of diuretics and diet medications 
  • Avoidance of specific food groups, such as carbohydrates and fats 

Bulimia Nervosa

Binge-purge cycles are a characteristic of bulimia nervosa. The cycle starts when a person experiences a binge-eating episode, which might be subjective or objective. An objective binge occurs when a person consumes a large amount of food. When a person eats a normal amount of food but feels a loss of control while doing so, this is known as a subjective binge. The binge event is followed by purging, or a strong desire to make up for the calories consumed. Self-induced vomiting, hard exercise, and laxative abuse are all examples of purging techniques. The binge-purge cycle of BN has a strong mental hold on the individual, and emotions of shame and guilt lead to increasing cravings to continue the practice.

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms 

  • Binge eating and purge cycles 
  • Low self-confidence 
  • Body image issues 
  • Shame and guilt
  • Isolation and withdrawal from family and friends 
  • Depression 
  • Variations in weight 
  • Obsessive food and weight-related thoughts

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder is similar to Bulimia Nervosa in that it involves bingeing and purging, however people with BED do not purge. Binge episodes in people with BED are typically objective, leaving the person feeling ashamed and regretful both during and after the binge.

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms 

  • For three months or more, you’ve had weekly binge eating episodes 
  • Weight gain
  • Eating a lot of food even when you’re not hungry
  • Consumption of food to the point of pain or discomfort
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Depression

Eating Disorders Not Commonly Discussed:

Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): A eating disorder in which the consumption of particular foods is restricted due to texture, smell, or taste aversion, previous negative food experiences, and fear of vomiting or choking. 

OSFED: a type of disordered eating characterized by negative ideas and behaviors about food, eating, and body image. OSFED is used for individuals who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for the previously mentioned EDs.

Orthorexia: is characterized by an obsession with ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ foods and the elimination of an increasing number of food groups (i.e. all sugar, all carbs, etc.).

Compulsive exercise: involves physical activity that considerably disrupts and hinders a person’s daily life. This might happen at random moments or in inconvenient places, and it can continue despite injuries or medical difficulties.

How Can Counseling for Eating Disorders Help?

A Registered Dietitian assists you in treating your eating disorder by determining nutritional needs and gaps, reviewing lab work and vital signs, and providing education to improve your relationship with food and body image. 

Strategies Counselors Use to Address Eating Disorders:

Contributing Factors: Identifying and Addressing Them

Effective treatment programs look at the factors contributing to an individual’s eating disorder and develop realistic solutions to address them. 

In addition, counselors teach their clients effective  coping techniques and mindfulness practices for recognizing and redirecting invasive thought patterns about food. Learning to control the emotions that lead to bingeing, purging, and other restrictive behaviors is a crucial first step in breaking the cycle of disordered thinking.

Setting Objectives

Registered dietitians work with clients to set realistic, attainable recovery goals. When people are working toward realistic goals, they are more likely to use healthy coping methods and are less likely to move from one harmful behavior to another. 

Small goals help you build confidence and consistency. Begin by setting some manageable goals, such as the following:

  • Unfollowing social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself 
  • Follow a meal plan for the entire day
  •  Acknowledge negative thoughts and challenge them with positive affirmations

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, psychosocial intervention, aims to lower  the symptoms of several mental health concerns, particularly depression and anxiety disorders, which are common among people with eating disorders. 

CBT teaches people about how emotions and thoughts influence their behavior. Patients learn coping techniques through exercises and “homework,”completed outside sessions, which provide opportunities to challenge their thinking, troubling feelings, and behaviors.

Early detection, initial examination, and efficient treatment can help an individual with an eating disorder get back on track faster, preventing the illness from becoming more severe or persistent. The sooner an eating disorder is recognized, the higher the prospects of recovery. As a result, it’s vital to understand the many forms of eating disorders and the warning signs if you or someone you know is suffering from one.