What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are mental health conditions that cause patients to obsess over food. These disorders cause serious physical, mental, and social consequences. Approximately 30 million people in the United States live with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Although people of any age and gender can develop an eating disorder, these conditions are most commonly found in women and teenage girls. Many people with eating disorders also live with one or more co-existing mental health conditions, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse disorder.

If you or a loved one show signs of an eating disorder, it’s essential to seek out help. Without high-quality mental health care, eating disorders can cause serious problems for a person and threaten their physical health.

Types of Eating Disorders

Mental health professionals recognize several distinct eating disorders:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Rumination Disorder
  • Pica

Each of these disorders has specific symptoms, as detailed below. Someone can have an eating disturbance that does not fit the diagnostic criteria for any of these disorders. Such patients may be diagnosed with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder, or Other Specific Feeding or Eating Disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, which is commonly called “anorexia,” is an eating disorder that causes people to severely limit their calorie intake. People with this disorder have an extreme fear of gaining weight, in spite of having a low body weight. Someone can have anorexia nervosa with or without binge-purge cycles.

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa go through episodes of binge eating followed by purging episodes. During a binge, a person eats more food than what most people would eat in the same short time span. During this time, they must also feel a lack of control over their eating.

After a binging episode, a person with bulimia nervosa will attempt to compensate for the excess in calories with any of the following actions:

  • Inducing vomiting
  • Misusing laxatives
  • Misusing diuretics
  • Fasting
  • Over-exercising

The cycles of binging and inappropriate compensation must occur at least once per week for at least three months before a provider can make this diagnosis.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is a relatively newly identified eating disorder. People with this disorder have at least one binge-eating episode per week for at least three months. During these binging periods, a person eats more than a usual amount in a short time without control over what they consume.

During a binge, someone with binge-eating disorder experiences at least three of the following issues:

  • Rapid eating
  • Eating beyond fullness
  • Eating even when not hungry
  • Shame, guilt, or low mood because of the binge
  • Secretly eating due to embarrassment

People with binge-eating disorder do not inappropriately compensate for the binges with purging or other activities. Furthermore, they feel marked distress about their eating behaviors.

Rumination Disorder

This disorder causes people to consistently regurgitate food for at least one month. The person may have rumination disorder whether they spit out, re-swallow, or re-chew the regurgitated food. Rumination disorder may only be diagnosed if this behavior is not due to one of the following conditions:

  • Another eating disorder
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Other gastrointestinal disorders


People with pica persistently eat non-food substances for at least one month. Importantly, a person does not have pica if eating the particular substances is developmentally or culturally appropriate. For example, babies putting toys in their mouths is developmentally appropriate and not a mental health disorder. Furthermore, pica is only diagnosed when the person is not eating non-food substances as a symptom of a different disorder, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Eating Disorder Treatment Options

If you or someone you love shows symptoms of an eating disorder, you do not have to go it alone. Mental health care providers can help you establish and maintain a healthy relationship with your body and food. Below are just a few options for eating disorder treatments:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Medication
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Inpatient program

Each person with an eating disorder is unique and needs an individualized care plan. Our team of experts work together to help you.

Telehealth and Eating Disorder Treatment

Online therapy and psychiatry can help people with eating disorders manage their symptoms. Patients can discuss their struggles and learn new coping mechanisms through secure, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing. However, telehealth is not the answer for all patients with eating disorders.

When someone’s eating disorder has caused immediate, life-threatening physical issues, mental health care providers may recommend inpatient treatment. These programs require patients to stay under medical supervision 24/7 for a while. Once released, patients may follow up with providers through in-person or online appointments.