Types of eating disorders

There are many different types of eating disorder, this section covers the most common types.

Anorexia nervosa

People diagnosed with anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough or over-exercising, or a combination of the two.

Some symptoms include:

  • Trying to keep your weight as low as possible
  • Thinking you are overweight even if others say you are dangerously thin
  • Low self-esteem or negative self-image
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Dismissive of the idea of eating more or encouragement from others to do so

Bulimia nervosa

You will have an unhealthy eating cycle if you have bulimia. You will eat a lot of food and then do something to yourself to stop weight gain. You may make yourself vomit, take laxatives or over-exercise. The eating is called ‘binging’ and what you do after is called ‘purging’. You will usually have an average body weight. This may mean other people do not notice you are having these problems.

Some symptoms include:

  • Binging – eating large amounts of food in a short space of time with little control
  • Purging – avoiding putting on weight by making yourself vomit, using laxatives or extreme amounts of exercise
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Low self-esteem or negative self-image
  • Experiencing mood changes such as anxiety or tension

Binge eating disorder (BED)

You’ll eat a lot of food in a short period of time on a regular basis if you have BED. As with bulimia, you won’t feel in control of your eating, and it’s likely to cause you distress. You may feel disconnected and struggle to remember what you have eaten.

Some symptoms include:

  • Eating very fast while binge eating
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating despite lack of appetite
  • Eating secretly
  • Experiencing depression, guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating

Other eating disorders and eating problems

Other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED)

OSFED means you have symptoms of an eating disorder, but you don’t have all the typical symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or BED. You may have a mixture of symptoms from different eating disorders. This doesn’t mean that your illness is less serious.

Avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

ARFID means you avoid and/or restrict intake of certain foods. This behaviour is unrelated to any beliefs you may have about body shape or weight.

Emotional overeating

You turn to food when you have negative feelings if you are an emotional overeater. These can be feelings like anxiety or sadness. Eating food may help you to feel comforted.

Lots of people use food to help manage feelings, this is normal. But it may become a problem if this is the only management technique that you have, or you are beginning to feel out of control. Emotional overeating can cause feelings of guilt and shame.


With pica, you eat non-food objects such as chalk, paint, stones and clothing. There is no nutritional benefit from eating these items and some can be harmful. Pica can lead to further health concerns such as dental and stomach problems.

Rumination disorder

You will chew and spit out food without swallowing it if you have rumination disorder. You may do this repeatedly.

Selective eating disorder (SED)

You will only eat certain foods and may refuse to try other foods if you have SED. This is common in young children. But the problem can continue into adulthood.

Orthorexia nervosa

Orthorexia is not a recognised clinical diagnosis. But many people struggle with the symptoms. Orthorexia is when you pay too much attention to eating food that you feel is healthy and pure. It may begin as a healthy diet but becomes rigorous and obsessive. You may become socially isolated because you plan your life around food.

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