Understanding the Most Common Eating Disorders

Understanding the Most Common Eating Disorders

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) estimates that 9% of people in the United States as well as at least 9% of people throughout the world will have some type of eating disorder during their lives. Eating disorders affect all ages, sexes, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In other words, nobody is immune. 

The pressures of social media and remote learning have also triggered an uptick in eating disorders during the pandemic, according to Forbes. In fact, since the pandemic began, calls to the National Eating Disorder Association hotline have nearly doubled.

The discreet and caring counselors at The Soho Center for Mental Health in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, are experienced in treating eating disorders in all ages and backgrounds. They've compiled this list of some of the most common eating disorders to help you better understand if you or someone you love needs help.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is probably the best-known eating disorder and is common among all ages and both sexes. The main symptom of anorexia nervosa is severely restricting food intake, which results in dramatic weight loss. 

People with anorexia nervosa may become obsessed with their body image and are convinced that they’re “fat,” even as they dwindle down to their skeleton. However, you can have anorexia nervosa and not be significantly underweight. Troubling behaviors associated with anorexia include:

Young women with anorexia may lose their periods. Anorexia is common among athletes who may overtrain and stress their bodies without giving them the calories they need to stay nourished and strong.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging through vomiting or laxative use. Binge eaters may appear to eat normal amounts during public meals, then sneak food when nobody’s looking. Or, they may publicly and visibly eat far more than usual amounts during their meals.

One telltale sign that someone is bulimic is that they may disappear into a bathroom after meals to purge themselves of the food they just ate. People with bulimia may smell of vomit. They may try to disguise the smell by chewing mint candy or gum. Someone with bulimia may:

People with bulimia may become moody and irritable. They may also look swollen around their salivary glands.


Pica is an eating disorder in which somebody regularly ingests non-food objects, such as paper, soap, or dirt. In some instances, the person with pica may be trying to supply their body with minerals that their diet lacks, including iron. Pica can be dangerous, as people (especially children) may eat substances — such as paint chips — that contain poisons.

Pica most often affects children and adults who have mental health disorders or who are on the autism spectrum. However, iron-deficiency anemia and even the increased nutritional demands of pregnancy might trigger an episode of pica. 

Many cases of pica resolve once the sufferer is placed on a multivitamin and is provided with a nutritious diet. However, some people also need behavioral therapy to stop their reliance on non-food items.

Binge eating

Binge eating may be part of another type of eating disorder, such as bulimia, or may exist on its own. Binge eating is actually the most common type of eating disorder in the United States.

Binge eaters tend to eat large quantities of food in a short period of time. They may feel out-of-control during their binge and eat whatever’s handy, whether they want it or not. Afterward, they feel disgusted with themselves and may try diet after diet, resulting in great fluctuations in their weight.

Rumination disorder

In rumination disorder, a person (usually a child) chews and swallows food, only to regurgitate it, and then either re-chew and swallow it, or spit it out. Most children with rumination disorder don’t seem bothered by their habit. Behavioral therapy can usually reverse the condition.

Without treatment, an eating disorder can be deadly. We often form a team with nutritionists and the patient’s primary care physician to be sure that they get adequate nutrition from diet and supplements as we help them resolve their eating disorder.

To get help for yourself or your loved one, use our online form, or call our knowledgeable staff for eating disorder treatment today.

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