Minus/plus icon
ResourcesExplore the full ACKO experience and make the most of your plan

Home / Health Insurance / Articles / Mental Health / Eating Disorders : What is it ,Signs,Causes,Types, Diagnosing & Treatment

Eating Disorders : What is it ,Signs,Causes,Types, Diagnosing & Treatment

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

Certain psychological conditions can cause a range of physical, mental and emotional problems. Also, they can have a detrimental effect on an individual's social functioning. Eating Disorders are an example of such conditions. Read ahead to know more about this issue.




What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorder is a mental and physical illness that causes serious disturbances to the eating behaviour of individuals. It involves extreme and dangerous eating habits, such as skipping meals or extreme overeating. This condition can be life-threatening and require professional treatment. 

Signs of Eating Disorders

Common signs of an Eating Disorder (EDO) may include the following.

  • Rapid or extreme changes in weight

  • Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape

  • Rigid rules and behaviours surrounding food

  • Unusual or secretive eating habits, such as eating in secret or hiding food

  • Obsessive calorie counting or food restriction

  • Unusual food rituals such as excessive chewing

  • Eating large quantities of food or bingeing

  • Compulsive overeating or emotional eating

  • Avoiding social situations involving food

  • Feeling ashamed or guilty after eating

  • Fear of being judged when eating

  • Compulsive exercising or excessive exercising

  • Intense anxiety about gaining weight 

Physical symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, fainting, nausea, constipation, dry skin, and cold hands and feet. It is important to note that not everyone will experience the same symptoms. 

Causes of Eating Disorders

Some potential causes are biological, psychological, and sociocultural.

Biological causes may include genetics, hormones, and brain chemistry. Brain chemistry may influence eating habits and the regulation of hormones that control hunger and satiety. Genetics may also play a role in a person's risk of developing an EDO. People with certain genetic predispositions may be more vulnerable to developing such disorders. 

Psychological causes of EDO may include low self-esteem, impulsivity, negative body image, perfectionism, difficulty managing or expressing emotions, or a history of trauma or abuse. These psychological factors may lead to disordered eating habits, such as restriction, binge eating, or purging.

Sociocultural factors, such as the media's idealised and unrealistic body images, may contribute to body dissatisfaction and the development of an Eating Disorder. Societal pressures to be thin, to achieve unrealistic physical perfection, or to meet specific body standards can also foster an unhealthy relationship with food and the body. Peer pressure, family dynamics, and cultural values also may play a role in developing this condition. 

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders typically manifest in one of six ways, which are as follows.

1. Anorexia nervosa

Here, individuals count on extreme dieting and exercise to control their weight. They may also have a distorted body image and a fear of gaining weight. Symptoms may include frequent dieting, extreme weight loss, fear of food, preoccupation with body shape and size, food restriction, and excessive exercise.

2. Bulimia nervosa

People with this EDO eat a large amount of food in a short time. The episodes of bingeing are followed by extreme measures such as vomiting, fasting, excessive exercising, or abusing laxatives or diuretics to control one’s weight. People with bulimia often feel disgusted or shamed and have a distorted body image.

Symptoms include disturbed sleep and eating patterns, depression, anxiety, irritability, and vitamin deficiencies due to malabsorption of food. 

3. Binge Eating Disorder

It is an EDO marked by episodes of uncontrolled eating, but without any attempt to rid the body of the food afterward. Individuals with Binge Eating Disorder feel a loss of control during the episodes, and often feel guilty or ashamed afterward. Binge eating is often associated with depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties. Symptoms of this disorder include feeling out of control while eating, eating even when full, feeling ashamed and embarrassed and eating alone.

4. Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder

People with this disorder have a hard time eating food, either due to a lack of interest or because of anxiety. They often restrict their food intake, avoid certain textures or tastes, and make excuses not to eat when socialising with others. Symptoms of this disorder include persistent food selectivity, distress regarding eating, poor appetite, and avoidance of social eating.

5. Rumination disorder

This Eating Disorder is characterised by the repeated regurgitation of food from the stomach back into the mouth without any attempt to vomit. It is typically associated with individuals who have a history of trauma and emotional difficulties. Signs and symptoms may include a loss of appetite, frequent throat clearing, excessive salivation, abdominal pain, and weight loss.

6. Pica

In this type of Eating Disorder, an individual eats non-food materials such as paper, metal, or dirt. It is often seen in children, pregnant women, and people with developmental disabilities and may also be associated with emotional difficulties. It can be potentially dangerous, as the ingestion of foreign objects can lead to choking or other health issues. Symptoms of this disorder include persistent ingestion of non-food items and craving for items with no nutritional value.

Diagnosing Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are diagnosed based on an individual's symptoms, medical history and physical exam. During the physical exam, the patient's height and weight are measured and any laboratory tests that might help to explain symptoms are done. 

In addition, a mental health professional should be consulted to assess the individual's emotional and psychological condition, eating habits, and overall health. Diagnoses may be made based on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

Treatment of Eating Disorders

The treatment of EDO is based on scientific evidence and involves a comprehensive approach that addresses the physical, psychological, and social aspects of the disorder. Treatment typically starts with an assessment and diagnosis, followed by psychotherapeutic, nutritional, or medical interventions. The treatment involves a combination of the following.

Psychotherapy: This form of treatment is designed to help individuals understand the causes of their Eating Disorders and establish healthier behaviours. Therapy can be conducted in individual, group, or family sessions, and is typically provided by a trained mental health professional. 

Nutritional intervention: This type of intervention focuses on helping individuals establish normal eating patterns and preventive lifestyle behaviours. The goal is to establish and maintain healthy eating habits and prevent the return of unhealthy behaviours and eating patterns.

Medical interventions: These interventions are used to address any medical complications related to an Eating Disorder, such as electrolyte imbalances and other nutritional deficiencies. Medical interventions may involve using medications to help reduce cravings or manage any associated mental health issues.

Additional psychological interventions: In addition to psychotherapy, other psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) may be used to help individuals gain insight into their behaviour and learn better ways to cope with stress.

Supportive services: Supportive services such as family therapy, peer support groups, and school education can also be essential components of treatment for Eating Disorders. These services provide education, support, and strategies for managing triggers and behaviours. 

Nutrition education: This form of treatment focuses on helping individuals learn about proper nutrition and helping them make positive changes to their diet. Nutrition education can be provided through individual and group sessions, and can be tailored to the individual’s needs.

For individuals with severe medical complications or who are at risk of medical complications, hospitalisation or residential treatment may be recommended to ensure that their physical health is monitored closely.

Ongoing support is essential to the long-term success of treatment. This includes regular follow-ups with a mental health professional, nutritionist, or physician, involvement in support groups, and ongoing education about the disorder and healthy lifestyle habits. 

Frequently asked questions

Here are some commonly asked questions regarding Eating Disorders.


What indicates an Eating Disorder?

Signs and symptoms that may indicate an EDO include an extreme focus on food and body weight, extreme anxiety associated with meal times, self-harming behaviour, calorie counting and food restriction, extreme weight gain or loss, feeling out of control around food, changes in mood, obsessed with cooking and baking, bingeing on food, purging (e.g. self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse), avoiding meals, or excessive exercising. 

What's the most serious Eating Disorder?

The most serious Eating Disorder is anorexia nervosa, which is characterised by extreme food restriction and an intense fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia nervosa may also experience depression, anxiety and physical health complications, such as low blood pressure, heart problems, and an inability to menstruate. 

Who is at risk of developing Eating Disorders?

People of all genders, ages and backgrounds can develop an EDO. However, certain factors may increase a person’s risk, including having a history of dieting, having a family member with such an issue, being teased about weight or appearance, and having an underlying mental health condition (such as depression or anxiety). Also, women may be at an increased risk due to cultural pressures to maintain an ideal body size and shape.

People of which age are most likely to have an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders usually develop in adolescence or young adulthood, though they can occur at any age. The average age of onset for anorexia nervosa is 16 to 17 and for bulimia nervosa, it is 18 to 19 years.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


Want to post any comments?


Affordable Health Insurance for You & Your Family starting @ ₹20/day*

✅ 100% Room Rent Covered* ✅ Zero deductions at claims ✅ 7100+ Cashless Hospitals

quote icon

Check health insurance

quote icon