6 Common Eating Disorders And Their Symptoms

According to the estimates by the national surveys, around 30 million Americans have had an eating disorder during their lifetime. Eating disorders have physical, psychological, and social effects on people. And in some cases, it could be lethal.

Eating disorders occur in people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. It is officially recognized as a mental disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).1


Eating disorders are characterized by irregular or abnormal eating habits and extreme distress or concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbances also include inadequate or excessive intake of food, which can eventually affect a person’s well-being.

The good news is that they can be treated and cured. Here are the most common types of eating disorders along with their signs and symptoms.


1. Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia fear weight gain and eat very little food.

Anorexia nervosa is a common eating disorder that usually begins during adolescence and often affects women more than men.2 People with anorexia eat so little that they have unhealthy weight loss and become dangerously thin. They often have an obsessive fear of gaining weight and think they are overweight or fat even when they are actually underweight or thin.


The risk of death is highest in people with this disorder, which can also lead to brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties, and infertility. Common symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Severely restricted eating
  • Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Other symptoms that may develop gradually include:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia, muscle wasting, and weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiple organ failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility

2. Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia eat more food than they should and get rid of it by throwing up or by fasting.

People suffering from bulimia consume large amounts of food in one go, and then try to get rid of the food or weight gain by throwing up, taking laxatives, fasting, or exercising a lot more than normal.


Just like people with anorexia, they often fear weight gain, try to desperately lose weight, and are extremely unhappy about their body size and shape.3 Some of the common symptoms include:4

  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to stroke or heart attack

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Most people with binge eating disorder tend to be obese.


Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. People suffering from this disorder often lose control over their eating. But, after eating too much, they do not involve in compensatory behaviors, such as purging, fasting, or excessive exercise.

So, many people suffering from this disorder may be obese and at an increased risk of developing other conditions including cardiovascular problems. People who have this disorder may also experience intense feelings of guilt, distress, and embarrassment about their binge eating habit.5


The common symptoms of BED include:

  • Eating unusually large quantities of food within a specific duration
  • Eating even when stomach is full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or secretively to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

4. Avoidant Or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

A person suffering from ARFID consumes much less food than what is nutritionally required.

Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs. ARFID is often confused with anorexia nervosa because weight loss and nutritional deficiency are common symptoms.

But, the main difference between ARFID and anorexia is that ARFID lacks drive for thinness. ARFID affects both sexes and is more common in children and young adolescents.6 However, it may also occur during late adolescence and adulthood.

This disorder is often associated with a psychiatric co-morbidity, especially anxious and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Common behavioral, physical, and psychological signs and symptoms of ARFID include:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Consistent gastrointestinal complaints of constipation, abdominal pain, stomach cramps, and acid reflux
  • Cold intolerance, lethargy, and/or excess energy
  • Drastic restriction in types or amount of food eaten
  • Eating only certain textures of food
  • Fears of choking or vomiting
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep problems
  • Dry skin, dry and brittle nails
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired immune functioning

5. Rumination Disorder

Those who have a rumination disorder often suffer from weight loss, stomachaches, and indigestion.

Rumination is a rare disorder in which partially digested food is regurgitated into the mouth effortlessly and painlessly soon after eating and without any nausea, vomiting, or disgust. This rumination typically occurs within the first 30 minutes after a meal. The food is then swallowed or expelled.7

It is mostly noticed in young infants although some adults may suffer from this disorder, which can affect people at all stages of life. It is also reported in children and adults with intellectual disability. Symptoms of rumination disorder include:

  • Repeated regurgitation of food
  • Repeated re-chewing of food
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath and tooth decay
  • Repeated stomachaches and indigestion
  • Raw and chapped lips

6. Pica

People who have pica eating disorder may have a deficiency of iron, calcium, or zinc.

Pica is the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its large and random appetite. Pica, an eating disorder, is the compulsive eating of non-nutritive and non-edible substances, which can have serious medical implications. Although it has existed for ages, there has been no exact explanation of the cause of such behavior.

This disorder, which mainly occurs in children, is an act or habit of eating non-food items such as stone, bricks, chalk, soap, paper, and soil. It is believed that iron, calcium, and zinc deficiency can cause this disorder.

Pica is likely to cause problems to the teeth as chewing stones and bricks can lead to attrition of teeth.8 Pica is more frequent in children, pregnant women, people with iron-deficiency anemia, and individuals of lower socioeconomic status.

The reported symptoms are extremely variable and are dependent on the type of toxin or infectious agent ingested. Symptoms usually include:

  • Manifestations of toxic ingestion (for instance, lead poisoning)
  • Gastrointestinal manifestations (such as mechanical bowel problems, constipation, ulcerations, perforations, and intestinal obstructions)
  • Dental manifestations (like severe tooth abrasion, abfraction, and surface tooth loss)
  • Manifestations of infection or parasitic infestation