Although different types of eating disorders have distinct symptoms, each condition involves an extreme focus on issues related to food and eating, and some involve an extreme focus on weight.

Although the term “eating” is in the name, eating disorders are about more than food. They’re complex mental health conditions that often require the intervention of medical and psychological experts to alter their course.

Here are six of the most common eating disorders and their symptoms.

Anorexia often involves:

  • severely restricted calorie intake, which may include avoiding certain types of foods
  • intense fear of gaining weight
  • distorted body image

It’s important to know that weight is not necessarily indicative of whether someone is living with an eating disorder.

In atypical anorexia, for example, a person may not be underweight despite experiencing significant weight loss.

Anorexia is officially categorized into two subtypes: the restricting type and the binge eating and purging type.

People with the restricting type lose weight solely through dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise.

People with the binge eating and purging type may binge on large amounts of food or eat very little. Purging may involve vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, or exercising excessively.

Obsessive-compulsive symptoms are often present. For instance, many people with anorexia are preoccupied with constant thoughts about food. Some may obsessively collect recipes or hoard food.

They may also have difficulty eating in public and have a strong desire to control their environment, limiting their ability to be spontaneous.

Over time, people living with anorexia may experience brittle hair and nails, thinning bones, and infertility. In severe cases, anorexia can result in heart, brain, or multi-organ failure and death.

People with bulimia often eat large amounts of food in a limited period of time.

A binge eating episode usually continues until they become painfully full. During a binge, they may feel that they cannot stop eating or control how much they are eating.

Binges can happen with any type of food but most commonly occur with foods the individual would usually avoid. People with bulimia then attempt to purge to compensate for the calories consumed and to relieve gut discomfort.

Common purging behaviors include:

  • forced vomiting
  • fasting
  • using laxatives
  • using diuretics
  • using enemas
  • excessive exercise

Symptoms may appear very similar to those of the binge eating or purging subtypes of anorexia nervosa.

Side effects of bulimia may include:

  • an inflamed and sore throat
  • swollen salivary glands
  • worn tooth enamel
  • tooth decay
  • acid reflux
  • gut irritation
  • dehydration

In severe cases, bulimia can also create an imbalance in levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. This can cause a stroke or heart attack.

BED often involves eating large amounts of food rapidly, in secret, and until uncomfortably full, despite not feeling hungry. Feelings of distress, such as shame, disgust, or guilt, may occur when thinking about binge eating behavior.

People with BED have symptoms similar to those of bulimia or the binge eating subtype of anorexia. This includes eating large amounts of food in relatively short periods of time and feeling a lack of control during these episodes.

However, people with BED do not restrict calories or use purging behaviors, such as vomiting or excessive exercise, after a binge eating episode.

People with BED may eat more ultra-processed foods than whole foods. This may increase the risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Pica involves eating things that are not considered food and that do not provide nutritional value. This may include:

  • ice
  • dirt
  • soil
  • chalk
  • soap
  • paper
  • hair
  • cloth
  • wool
  • pebbles
  • laundry detergent
  • cornstarch

However, for the condition to be considered pica, the eating of non-food substances must not be a typical part of someone’s culture or religion.

Pica is most frequently seen in individuals with conditions that affect daily functioning, such as:

People with pica may have an increased risk of:

Depending on the substances ingested, pica may be fatal.

Rumination disorder occurs when a person routinely regurgitates food they have previously chewed and swallowed, re-chews it, and then either re-swallows it or spits it out. This typically occurs within 30 minutes after a meal.

In infants, rumination disorder tends to develop between 3 and 12 months old and often disappears on its own. In children and adults with the condition, therapy can resolve it.

If not resolved in infants, rumination disorder can result in weight loss and severe malnutrition that can be fatal.

Adults with this disorder may restrict the amount of food they eat, especially in public.

People with ARFID experience a lack of interest in eating or a distaste for certain smells, tastes, colors, textures, or temperatures.

Common symptoms include:

  • avoidance or restriction of food that prevents the person from eating enough calories or nutrients
  • eating habits that interfere with typical social functions, such as eating with others
  • weight loss or poor development for age and height
  • nutrient deficiencies or dependence on supplements or tube feeding

ARFID goes beyond common behaviors such as picky eating in toddlers or lower food intake in older adults.

Moreover, it does not include the avoidance or restriction of foods due to lack of availability or religious or cultural practices.

In addition to the six eating disorders mentioned, other less known or less common eating disorders also exist.

These include:

  • Purging disorder: People with purging disorder use vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or excessive exercise to control their weight or shape. However, they do not binge eat.
  • Night eating syndrome: People with this syndrome frequently eat excessively at night, often after awakening from sleep.
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED): This is an umbrella term for conditions that have symptoms similar to those of an eating disorder but don’t fit any of the disorders above.

One disorder that may currently fall under OSFED is orthorexia.

Although orthorexia is increasingly mentioned in the media and in scientific studies, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) does not yet recognize it as a separate eating disorder.

People with orthorexia tend to have an obsessive focus on healthy eating to an extent that disrupts their daily lives. They may compulsively check ingredient lists and nutritional labels and obsessively follow “healthy lifestyle” accounts on social media.

Someone with this condition may eliminate entire food groups, fearing that they’re unhealthy. This can lead to malnutrition, severe weight loss, difficulty eating outside the home, and emotional distress.

If these symptoms resonate with you and you think you may have an eating disorder, it’s important to reach out to a medical professional for help.

Making the decision to start eating disorder recovery might feel scary or overwhelming, but seeking help from medical professionals, eating disorder recovery support groups, and your community can make recovery easier.

Consider booking an appointment with an eating disorder specialist in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.

Read this article in Spanish.