Eating disorders are pervasive in our society yet remain largely misunderstood.  This article will give a brief overview of the different formal diagnoses for eating disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM 5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013).  In order to fight back against these diagnoses, it is important to gain an understanding of what they are and how they trap their victims.  Read more about how they trap their victims here.

Probably the most recognized or discussed eating disorder is Anorexia Nervosa, more commonly called Anorexia.  This disorder is characterized by restricting food to the degree that it leads to significantly low weight. In addition to the act of restricting, this eating disorder is also characterized by intrusive thoughts regarding weight, intense fear of weight gain, and/or a persistent denial regarding the dangers of low body weight.  Although these characteristics are generally present, each person’s experience of this disorder is unique. Some suffering from this eating disorder only restrict, while others engage in restricting, bingeing, and purging behaviors.  

Bulimia Nervosa, or simply Bulimia, is another diagnosable eating disorder.  This disorder is characterized by episodes of binge eating which consists of eating an abnormally large amount of food during a relatively short period of time where the person feels out of control.  One suffering from this disorder then engages in recurrent harmful behaviors in an attempt to compensate for the food that was eaten. These compensatory behaviors can include self-induced vomiting, the misuse of laxatives, over exercising, or fasting.  Like Anorexia, Bulimia is also often characterized by one’s self-worth being centered on weight and body image and by intrusive thoughts regarding weight and body size.  

Binge-eating disorder is also characterized by the sufferer eating an abnormally large amount of food during a distinct period of time.  During this episode of eating the person feels that they are out of control and that they are not able to stop eating. These binges also often involve the person suffering from this disorder to eat much faster, eat until they are uncomfortably full, eat when not hungry, eat in secret, and to feel guilty or disgusted afterwards.  Unlike bulimia, binge eating disorder does not involve compensatory behaviors. However, like Bulimia Nervosa, it involves marked distress and immense disturbance in one’s thoughts and self-esteem.  

Two additional diagnosable categories for eating disorders in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 (DSM 5) are labeled Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (other) and Unspecified Eating Disorder (unspecified).   The diagnosis of Other can cover those suffering from most, but not all, of the criteria for Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, or Binge-eating disorder. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder also includes Purging disorder, which is characterized by compensatory behaviors without binges, and Night Eating Syndrome.  Night Eating Syndrome is characterized by food consumption at night when one wakes after sleeping or after one is done with the evening meal. This eating does not meet criteria for a binge, but does cause the person significant distress. An unspecified diagnosis includes any additional disordered eating that causes significant distress but does not meet criteria for the other listed diagnoses.  These final two diagnostic categories demonstrate the unique experiences that disordered eating causes for each person.  

Although this brief overview describes the actions and some of the thought disturbances, it cannot convey the amount of distress that these eating disorders cause for their victims.  From the outside, the actions of a person suffering from disordered eating do not make sense. However, to the one suffering, these dangerous actions often become a sort of rule or law that they feel they cannot break.  As mentioned previously, each person’s experience will be different, however the presence of rules that make promises, are almost always present. In order to break free from these diagnoses one must identify the rules and learn to recognize the danger in following them, as opposed to being lured by their promises.

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders  (5th ed.). Washington, DC:  Author.