9 Common Eating Disorders That You Haven't Heard About
Therapists and nutritionists share the common eating disorders you don't know, beyond anorexia and bulimia.
Approximately 30 million Americans have an eating disorder, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition. However, while conditions like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa may be well-known to the average person, there are a number of other eating disorders and food-related behavioral issues that are rarely discussed, but can be every bit as dangerous to those who have them. With the help of top therapists and nutritionists, we've rounded up the eating disorders that you may not know, but are more common than you might imagine.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at (800) 931-2237.
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, or ARFID, affects up to 3 percent of the population, according to Shena Jaramillo, a registered dietician nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders.
Characterized by extremely picky eating or harmful eating patterns—or a combination of the two—individuals with ARFID "may have challenges with food textures, smell, or colors" or have a general lack of appetite, Jaramillo says. The condition, which typically affects younger children and is more common in males, isn't generally associated with negative body image, but can cause serious medical issues, including unhealthy weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and an avoidance of social situations where food is present.
While it's certainly possible for some individuals to follow a rigid diet without developing potentially dangerous eating habits, those with orthorexia may take the pursuit of a healthy diet to unhealthy extremes.
The condition, the basis of which is an obsession with healthy eating, can take a serious toll on a person's physical and mental health due to the weight loss and nutritional deficiencies associated with an overly stringent diet, as well the strict social limitations it creates.
"It becomes problematic when this person cannot enjoy a birthday party because the cake is not gluten free or cannot attend a social event because the food is not GMO-free," says Amber Stevens, LMT, an integrative nutrition health coach. She also notes that the condition is often overlooked because the person seems to be "healthy" to others.
Binge eating disorder
While it may get less public attention, binge eating disorder, or BED, is three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
The condition is characterized by eating more food than would be considered normal during a specific time period. However, this doesn't just mean eating a huge amount at one sitting. "This could look like going through multiple fast food drive-thrus at one time and ordering the equivalent of several meals and eating [them] within an hour, or it might look like grazing all day long, never really feeling a sense of fullness," says Meredith Riddick, LPC, CEDS-S, clinical program director of eating disorder nonprofit Rock Recovery. She also notes that the binges are often associated with guilt, shame, and depression afterward.
A diagnosis applied to individuals who lick, chew, or consume non-food items, including dirt, chalk, or paper, pica is an eating issue that is found most frequently in young children and pregnant women.
However, since individuals with the condition don't typically have restrictive or excessive eating behaviors associated with other eating disorders, "pica is often not diagnosed until they suffer from other medical issues due to accidental poisoning, cracked teeth, or infection from the items they are eating," says psychotherapist Natalie Mica.
Bulimia isn't the only eating disorder that involves the expelling of food that's already been consumed. And much like bulimia, this condition can cause serious physical damage, including malnourishment, electrolyte imbalances, and damage to the teeth and gums.
"Rumination disorder occurs when a person repeatedly eats food that is then effortlessly and painlessly regurgitated in the absence of any medical and gastrointestinal conditions for more than one month," Mica says. The person will then re-chew, swallow, or sometimes spit out the regurgitated food, she says.
Night eating syndrome
Night eating syndrome, or NES, is condition in which disrupted circadian rhythms cause increased appetite at nighttime, and can lead to serious physical and psychological consequences to those affected by it.
"Most people who suffer from this believe that they have no control over their behavior and feel guilty and depressed," says psychotherapist Richard A. Singer, Jr., author of The Essential Addiction Recovery Companion. He also notes that while therapy may help, there is little research into what is an effective long-term solution for treating the condition.
Other specified feeding or eating disorder
Representing around 70 percent of eating disorder diagnoses, having an other specified feeding or eating disorder, or OSFED, is shockingly common, but rarely discussed.
The category includes conditions that carry many of the same symptoms as anorexia and bulimia—problematic eating patterns, distorted body image, and fear of gaining weight—but don't meet other requirements necessary for a clinical diagnosis of those aforementioned conditions, Riddick says.
Riddick notes that individuals with OSFED can experience a combination of physical and psychological symptoms, "including weight loss/gain/fluctuation, signs of damage due to purging, fainting and dizziness, heightened anxiety and/or irritability around meal times, preoccupation with food and eating, extreme body dissatisfaction," and rigid definitions about food being "good" or "bad."
Not everyone with anorexia has a dangerously low body weight.
Atypical anorexia, which may be classified as OSFED, "is characterized by the same symptoms of anorexia—restricting, etc.—however, [the individual] is not underweight," Singer says. And being underweight, he says, is a required clinical component for an anorexia nervosa diagnosis.
Another example of OSFED, low-frequency bulimia is characterized by the bingeing and purging of bulimia nervosa, but these behaviors are done "at a lower frequency or duration," Singer says. In order to be diagnosed with traditional bulimia, a person must engage in at least one episode of bingeing or purging a week over the course of at least three months.