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Types of eating disorders

Ngā momo matenga kainga

There are several different types of eating disorder. Some of the features are the same and sometimes people can have more than 1 type.

Anorexia (anorexia nervosa)

Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which a person loses a lot of weight. They still think they are fat, even though others would describe them as very thin. People with anorexia are obsessed with controlling their weight and what they eat. Sometimes this can be to the point of starvation.

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

Men with anorexia are often preoccupied with bodybuilding, weightlifting or muscle toning. They may have lowered testosterone levels and lose interest in sex. They are 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 (ARFID) refuse to eat most food. They eat so little they do not meet their energy or nutritional needs. It can be related to anxiety and hypersensitivity to certain textures and flavours.

ARFID usually starts in tamariki (children) or rangatahi (teens). But it can happen in people of all ages. Tamariki with ARFID may have delayed growth because they are not eating well enough.

ARFID is much more serious than normal fussy eating. ARFID can have serious health consequences. It is more common among males than females.

Binge eating disorder

Binge-eating disorder is also called compulsive overeating.

People with the disorder go through periods of eating too much when they are not actually hungry. They often feel they cannot control their eating. Yet they constantly try to gain control through dieting or fasting.

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

For many people who binge, food provides comfort or a distraction from problems they are having. This 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. The person probably feels out of control while eating.

Purging is making yourself vomit, using laxatives or using other ways to try to get rid of food. People do this so they do not gain weight.

Some people with bulimia also exercise excessively to avoid 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. They 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. Last reviewed March 2024.


Page reference: 765974

Review key: HIEDI-73561