When the term “eating disorder” is used, most people automatically think of Anorexia or Bulimia. Both disorders have, rightfully, received a great deal of media attention both because they are common and because they can be deadly if not treated appropriately. The world of eating disorders is, however, far broader than mainstream reporting would lead us to believe. In fact, there are a number of eating disorders that can be just as dangerous as Anorexia that many people have never heard of. Here are five common eating disorders that you should be aware of.
It may not seem like eating “healthy foods” should qualify as an eating disorder, but when it prevents people from actually being healthy, and then Orthorexia becomes a problem. An obsession with eating healthy foods to that point that an individual begins to lose weight or simply can’t find enough “pure” food to eat qualifies as Orthorexia. The recent trend toward healthy, organic eating in the U.S. has amplified what was once a rather vague and limited condition. If you aren’t convinced that Orthorexia is dangerous, then just read the story of Kate Finn, a young woman who landed in a hospital eating disorders unit, much like the eating disorder treatment center in St. Louis Missouri, because of Orthorexia.
When people feel compelled to consume things that aren’t considered food, they are suffering from a condition called Pica. Pica for hair is a common manifestation of the disease, but cases that involve eating everything from cigarette butts to paint to coins have been identified in the mental health literature. When Pica involves sharp objects or things that can cause intestinal obstruction, it morphs from an eating disorder to a life-threating ailment. Pica can be difficult to treat and commonly requires inpatient mental health care for a period of time.
Being eating and bulimia is not the same thing, though they share the compulsion to eat large quantities of food in common. In bulimia, people binge and purge (e.g. induced vomiting, laxative abuse), while in binge eating people simply binge. This disorder is becoming increasingly common, but can be difficult for friends and family to recognize because people hide it. It is important to understand that binge eaters aren’t hungry, they simply feel compelled to eat large quantities of food in the same way that an alcoholic feels compelled to drink.
Anorexia Nervosa is the condition most people think of when an eating disorder is mentioned. In Anorexia Nervosa, people deal with body image issues (e.g. they think they are heavy no matter how thin they are) by not eating. In Anorexia Athletica, people address the same body issues by exercising to extremes. Both conditions can be deadly if left untreated.
Night Eating Syndrome
Night eating syndrome (NES) is a new disorder that is rapidly gaining prominence. It turns out that some people who claim that they “don’t eat much during the day” are actually telling the truth in a roundabout way. The discrepancy is explained by NES, a condition in which people eat during the night and may or may not be aware that they are doing so. In most cases, those suffering from NES are aware of what they are doing and are ashamed to admit it.
Eating Disorders Quantified
There are many other types of eating disorders that people suffer from and any time that interest in food turns to obsession or starts to have an impact on health and social relationships, it becomes an eating disorders. If you feel ashamed about eating habits or feel like you are losing control of your eating behavior, recognizing that there is help available is critical. Eating disorders are every bit as serious as any physical disease and require the same intensive treatment that diabetes or heart failure requires.