Signs of Eating Disorders: Types and Symptoms

October 31, 2021

These days eating disorders are more common than ever. I know that eating disorders come in many different forms and can be triggered by a variety of factors, but from my experience, more time than you think ADHD is the root cause of the eating disorder.

We know how daunting reading articles from start to finish can be, especially when you have ADHD, so we added this clickable Table of Contents to easily navigate our articles 😉 :

Eating Disorder overview

What is an Eating Disorder?

Let's get the medical disclaimers out of the way. I'm not a doctor and this article does not provide any medical advice about eating behaviors, please see a doctor if you have any questions and/or need help.

I'm going to first share the information you can find about eating disorders the way it is generally described by the medical community. Then I'll explain how it relates to ADHD and my personal take on the subject. As you know I'm, not always a fan of the harsh way the medical community describes conditions, but here it goes.

The medical definition of an eating disorder is a serious condition that occurs as a result of eating patterns. The most commonly reported eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Eating disorders can harm the liver, gastrointestinal system bones, teeth, and saliva and can lead to other illnesses. Generally speaking, you can resume healthy eating habits and sometimes reverse the symptoms of food disorders.

Treatment can generate a return to normal eating habits and reverse serious complications related to eating disorders.

Eating disorders are considered serious mental and physical illnesses involving complex and damaging relationships to food, eating, exercise, and body image.

ADHD & effects of eating disorders

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide. These disorders occur regardless of race or religion, gender or age. It also causes behavioral symptoms characterized by serious disturbances to an eater's eating habits. They can be serious disorders that affect physical, mental, and social functions.

These bad habits of eating most often form in childhood and teenagerhood (sounds familiar?).

Eating Disorders are sometimes linked to early bad eating habits during childhood.

Facts about eating disorders

Eating disorders are complex and varied diseases, which vary from person to person. Research is able to identify some general facts to distinguish between eating disorders.


Eating Disorder Symptoms

Eating disorders are consist of related disorders that cause severe emotional problems or mental difficulties in an individual.

There are different types of eating disorders that have different symptoms.

6 common types of eating disorders

Eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by an obsession with food or their physical shapes. It can affect anybody but are more prevalent in young women. Experts in the field believe that eating disorders have a variety of possible causes like genetics, brain biology (sounds familiar again?), personality traits, and cultural ideals.

A lot of factors can cause eating disorders like brain biology.

As I said above, I am NOT a medical expert so I'll just echo what I've seen from credible sources, but please read carefully and don't make assumptions based on these. There is so much more that goes into a diagnosis so please talk to a doctor if you need to!

I personally believe that the clinical way the medical community list things is not healthy, that's why I try to bring the other side of this conversation to the table, but I do think it is important to be exposed to all sides to have a clearer picture as possible. Below are the most common eating disorders:

Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

When someone eats less than usual due to "fear" of not being accepted due to gain in weight.

-Often count calories very diligently and are only allow themselves to eat tiny amounts of some foods. They have an intense fear of gaining weight.

-Often eating very small amounts and may seem to "disappear" during meals.

-Pressure themselves to eat less than they are hungry for or even nothing at all, especially when eating with other people. They feel very conscious about their body weight.

-Practicing excessive exercise, even when injured or in bad weather.

-Many people with eating disorders have a distorted body image of themselves as they consider their body as "fat," although they are dangerously thin.

-Some anorexics binge on laxatives at some point and even use laxatives before eating something.

-Pale skin color due to decreased blood flow caused by malnutrition - this could be seen from the outside looking in but would not show up on a blood test.

Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Someone with Bulimia Nervosa can feel guilty after eating unhealthy amounts of food...

These are some of the official signs of bulimia nervosa I could find online:

Eating large amounts and feeling out-of-control eating is often followed by feelings such as shame, guilt, or disgust with themselves for overeating. As they notice their weight gain, this may lead them to make themselves throw up or exercise excessively to expedite their weight loss.

Unlike anorexia, people with Bulimia Nervosa are typically having a normal weight. They have the same extreme fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. They think their body shape is “fat” and really want to lose weight. If left untreated it can lead to long-term health problems including an abnormal heart rate bleeding from the esophagus by excessive reflux of stomach acid, dental problems, and renal problems. You need help if you feel bulimic. It can be controlled easily through cognitive behavior therapy, anticonvulsant medicines, anti-depression drugs, and other therapeutic measures.

Signs of Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

People with binge eating disorders have a tendency to consume unhealthy amounts of food. These episodes can make some individuals feel like they lost control, feeling guilt or shame. The more frustrated they feel with bingeing, the more they are likely to continue down that path. This is why binge eating often leads to obesity.

There are serious health risks when neglected. Eating disorders are treatable and some people suffering from an eating disorder can learn healthy eating habits and start over.

Signs of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

ARFID is an eating disorder that manifests when a previous experience causes a negative effect on our perception of a particular food.

ARFID replaced previously published DSM-5 findings in the category of infant-born infant or childhood feeding syndrome or early childhood nutrition disorders.

Individuals suffering from ARFID sometimes experience food-related distress based on sensory characteristics of food qualities. ARFID behavior can also include a conditioned negative response that is associated with certain food - as in trauma for example.

The disease is more common in babies or young children, however it can affect any age group. Despite a new food issue diagnosis, the deterioration will not be affected and there won't be any changes in bodyweight or size perception.

Signs of Rumination Disorder

Rumination disorders are caused not by any medical condition but by dietary habits. The food can be brought back to the mouth immediately with no nausea or vomiting. Some regurgitated food gets reclaimed, or spit out. The condition may create malnutrition if food is spat out or if one eats less to prevent the behavior. The occurrence of the rumination disorder is likely less common in babies that have one of several Intellectual disabilities.


Risk factors for eating disorders

Malnutrition is transferred to all organs in the body, including the brain and cardiovascular, intestines, and epileptic. It is difficult for the brain to continue to operate without adequate nourishment. The electrolyte imbalance caused by vomiting or laxative use or excessive water consumption could also raise the risk of heart disease. Eating disorders affect the elimination and absorption of body nutrients and lead to severe stomach problems. Consistent vomiting could wear up the esophagus and cause a rupture.

Eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction between genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors. Human genes may be studied using an approach. Brain imaging studies also provide an improved understanding of eating disorders. This kind of research may assist in developing new diagnostic and treatment options. Eating disorders affect both genders but the rate in women is higher than in men. Similar to women with eating disorders, men have similar distorted senses and attitudes to body image. Researchers were searching DNA - variations related to the increased odds of developing eating disorders and may help develop new ways to diagnose and treat eating disorders in the future.

--> Biological factors

Eating disorders generally co-exist with depression, anxiety, or substance use issues. The disease is more likely to occur if the patient's medical history changes. Research indicates that certain diseases and conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes have higher risk factors relating to eating disorders. In general, the risk factors for eating disorders are primarily genetic in nature, including a propensity to medical and mental problems. Eating disorders are often associated with some physical and mental illnesses like diabetes, depression and anxiety. Eating disorders are common in people with family history of mental illness.

--> The connection between ADHD & Eating Disorders

Research has linked eating problems with various mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, or eating problems - eating binges for example.

Obviously, my area of expertise is ADHD so here I want to talk about the connection between ADHD and eating disorders.

Considering the way ADHD affects our brains and the multitude of symptoms we feel it is not surprising that ADHD can have some unwanted consequences.

Neurodiversity has been linked with pretty much everything that is extraordinary with the human race both good and bad (extreme creativity & intelligence but also eating disorders & procrastination). There is still so much we don't know though and there is not a lot of trusted research to hang our hats to.

4) Fighting back against Eating Disorders

Preventing Eating Disorders

If you notice that somebody around you seems to have an eating disorder, it will be helpful to talk to that person about your concerns. When you reach out with compassion, you may be able to get your patient to seek help. There is no guaranteed way to prevent eating disorders but there are ways that you can help others to learn healthy eating habits.

Eating disorders can be particularly difficult to deal with, so be considerate & compassionate!

Eating Disorder Diagnosis Process

If eating disorder symptoms are observed, the person should be evaluated by a medical professional. A thorough medical exam will provide insight into eating disorders and other related conditions that may require treatment.

Treating Eating Disorders

The best ways of treating eating disorders are eating a healthy diet, eating often and eating enough. Other good ways to treat eating disorders include getting plenty of sleep each night as well as participating in regular exercise that is moderate intensity.

--> Psychotherapies

Psychotherapies such as a family-based therapist called the Maudsley Approach seem to help people gain weight and improve their mood and diet. To eliminate binge-eating and purging behavior, people can undergo Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a kind of psychotherapy that helps students learn to identify patterns in behavior. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help people identify and change their negative thinking patterns.

--> Medications

Evidence suggests that antidepressant, antipsychotic, or mood-stabilizing pills may be useful in removing indigestion and other co-occurring conditions such as depression. Visit the website of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - information about warnings, patient medicine guides or newly approved medications.

Frequently Asked Questions about Eating Disorders

What causes eating disorders?

Genetic factors contribute to the development of eating disorders.

What are the main symptoms of eating disorders?

The symptoms of an eating disorder can differ for each disorder. A severe case of nervosa can result in death. Symptoms include the disease's complications from starvation and suicide. People with eating disorders may also have other mental disorders such as depression or anxiety. Eating disorders cause illnesses, including bulimia nervosa or anorexia. There are similar symptoms to binging including trying to control the weight or trying to control body fat.

Who is at risk for eating disorders?

Any person could have an eating disorder but most of them are affecting women. Eating disorders often appear in young adulthood and teenagerhood. They may develop throughout life, whether as a toddler or later in life.

How are eating disorders diagnosed?

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, this can be severe enough that you may need medical help ASAP to prevent permanent damage. Your physician will use several tools to make an accurate assessment.

How are eating disorders linked to ADHD?

This will be the topic of its own article as there is too much to cover, but as you've seen in this specific article there are some similarities between ADHD & eating disorders. These similarities explain how people can have both and how they can be correlated.

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