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Types of eating disorders

There are several different types of eating disorder. Some of the features are the same and sometimes people can have more than one type.

Anorexia (anorexia nervosa)

Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which a person loses a lot of weight but still thinks they're fat, even though others would describe them as very thin. People with anorexia are obsessed with controlling their weight and what they eat, sometimes to the point of starvation.

It's much more common in girls and women, although boys and men get anorexia too.

Men with anorexia are often preoccupied with body-building, weight-lifting, or muscle toning. They may have lowered testosterone levels, and lose interest in sex. They're likely to have thinning hair or serious hair loss, and grow a type of downy body hair called lanugo.

Anorexia is a serious health issue that usually requires intensive ongoing treatment to overcome.

Watch this video from for more information about anorexia.

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

People with avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (usually shortened to ARFID) refuse to eat most food, and eat so little they don't meet their energy or nutritional needs. It can be related to anxiety and hypersensitivity to certain textures and flavours.

ARFID usually starts in children or teens, but can happen in people of all ages. Children with ARFID may have delayed growth because they're not eating well enough.

ARFID is much more serious than normal childhood fussy eating, and can have serious health consequences. It's more common among males than females.

Binge eating disorder

People with binge-eating disorder (or compulsive overeating) go through periods of eating too much when they aren't actually hungry. They often feel that they can't control their eating, yet constantly try to gain control through dieting or fasting.

The warning signs of binge-eating disorder can include: frequent weight fluctuations; weight gain; frequent dieting; alternating between eating and fasting; rapid eating and eating until uncomfortably full; eating alone or in secret; obsession with food and eating.

For many people who binge, food provides comfort or distraction from problem they are having. These can be linked with depression and anxiety.

Bulimia (bulimia nervosa)

Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is when a person repeatedly restricts their eating, binges and purges. Bingeing means eating a large amount of food, usually quickly, and feeling out of control while eating.

Purging is making yourself vomit, using laxatives or using other ways to try to get rid of food so you don't gain weight.

Some people with bulimia also exercise excessively to stop themselves gaining weight.

These cycles of bingeing and purging often lead to feelings of failure and depression. People with bulimia believe they have lost control over their efforts to lose weight and often feel disgusted about their purging. They also tend to dislike their bodies and have low self-esteem.

Bulimia is treated with talking therapies, including cognitive behaviour therapy.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created January 2021. Last updated February 2021.


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