Eating disorders – types and causes

There are several types of eating disorders, and different symptoms . We will take a closer look at these, while at the same time looking at what eating disorders actually entail. Because what could be the cause of an eating disorder?

Eating disorders – What types are there?

There are several types of eating disorders, and the Eating Disorders Association lists the following: Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, unspecified eating disorders, orthorexia and megarexia. The last two are not, as of today, separate diagnoses, but refer to a specific pattern which is often destructive in the long run, and which affects the person’s quality of life and self-image . You can also have symptoms of several different types at the same time, and symptoms that do not fit into any of the categories. Here follows a brief introduction to the different types of eating disorders:

Megarexia and Orthorexia
Megarexia is about being overly concerned with being as muscular as possible , and in your own eyes never getting big enough. Orthorexia involves an excessive focus on being healthy, which can be experienced almost as an obsession. It is actually a harmless thought about having good health that has turned into all-consuming and destructive. When everything revolves around health, and you are controlled by compulsive thoughts about what you can/can’t do or eat, this can have a negative effect on your quality of life and your psyche.

Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating
Statistically speaking, anorexia (anorexia nervosa) has the highest mortality rate. This is because a person with anorexia limits their food intake , and often develops a distorted view of how their body looks. The thinner you become, the more you want to lose weight.

Bulimia (bulimia neurosa) can be recognized by episodes of overeating, and then experiencing a strong urge to get rid of the food . Many people experience a bad conscience, guilt or shame after an episode of overeating. Many experience gaining control over the situation by inducing vomiting or in other ways emptying the body of food.

Binge eating and bulimia have some similarities, but binge eating does not involve the purging ritual where you want to get rid of the food again. Even so, the large food intake can be followed by feelings of depression and shame . A person who overeats is also concerned about weight, and many are often on dieting for a long time. Weight can fluctuate enormously, while others manage to maintain a stable weight by having extreme fasting between binge eating episodes.

Unspecified eating disorders

This is a category that is used when you do not have all the symptoms of only one of the other categories . You still have signs of eating disorders and destructive behavior towards your own health, and it is therefore important that you are seen and heard. It is important to take symptoms seriously, even if you do not fulfill all the points on the list for one of the above categories.

Eating disorders – Statistics

More women than men are affected by anorexia and bulimia, while in the case of overeating there are not as clear gender differences. It is also during adolescence that eating disorders develop, but it also occurs in adulthood. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health writes on its website that in the group of Norwegian women between the ages of 15 and 44, the incidence of anorexia is 0.3%, bulimia 2% and binge eating disorder 2%. This means that 50,000 Norwegian women have an eating disorder at any given time.

Nevertheless, it is mentioned that there are dark figures, and the focus on eating disorders in men has increased . Furthermore, they write that calculations show that around 10% of the population have mild eating problems. This involves individual problems related to the body and food, and can often be a precursor to eating disorders.


Eating disorders – When should you seek help

Many may find that they do not recognize themselves in descriptions of, for example, anorexia or bulimia. Even if they themselves may be struggling with their body, food or self-image, and that this affects their quality of life. Focusing on extremes can mean that a person who is struggling will not pick up on the problems early in the process. They may think that it is not a problem until the extremes are reached. What can often be forgotten is that it is a long process before you end up in the most extreme.

It is therefore important to note that this is a disease that is fluid and develops gradually . It is just as important to get help early in the process as it is late.

A person who has developed anorexia, and is now morbidly underweight and needs to be followed up by the hospital, did not start their journey at 40 kg. It started long before that. This applies to all types of eating disorders. But because it is often a disease that is kept very secret , with behavior that is often done in secret, and thoughts that are kept inside, it is difficult for those around to catch on. At the same time, it can be difficult for the person themselves to understand that there is help to be had before they have become stuck in a destructive pattern and it starts to become dangerous for their own health.

This is often because many people do not think they are “sick enough” to get help. Many people dismiss the focus on weight as “slightly normal dieting”, or see the overeating with subsequent vomiting as a “one-off incident due to a lot of stress”. In reality, this is a warning sign for the person himself, and it may be time to seek help .

Eating disorders – causes

It is not the case that eating disorders are exclusively about food and the body. Food is often only the tool that is used as a defense mechanism in very individual situations. Often these defense mechanisms are adopted almost unconsciously. Researchers agree that eating disorders are made up of both genetic and environmental factors. It is therefore often situational and complex reasons why a person develops eating disorders.

Below you will find some examples of how an eating disorder is used as a psychological defence. However, note that these are just that, examples. There are many other examples where everything is put together in different ways. The most important thing here is to see how the underlying cause is often handled by food, body and extreme behavior as a tool.

  1. Perfectionism, pressure and unrealistic demands:
    Growing up with a lot of pressure from either yourself, family or the environment you are in can provoke a reactionwhere you use food as a psychological defence. Food releases serotonin and dopamine. This can be a defense because it makes us feel better for brief moments. Serotonin and dopamine are the body’s own drugs, and form part of our reward system. By releasing these hormones, we will feel good. In cases such as bulimia, it still happens that you are unable to stop eating, because the happy hormones will return to normal levels after a while. Then again you have to have more to quell the negative feelingsyou sit with them, but who are often there for completely different reasons. It can be anything from shame, fear, self-loathing, anger and more.

In the example of bulimia, the pattern of action mentioned above will provoke more shame, precisely because you are unable to stop eating. This will then be followed by an urge to get rid of the feeling that one has lost control, and thus vomit. Then the feeling of control will return. It becomes like a circle where you throw the ball between losing and maintaining control. Here we also see that the entire course of action numbs the underlying cause .

  1. Sexual and/or psychological abuse:
    In situations where a person has been abused, this can have serious consequences on how the person sees – and treats themselves. In some cases, an urge to hide, simply disappear, and thus stop eating develops. In other cases, a need may develop to punish oneself, or to use physical pain to alleviate the inner pain one has. The body has strong survival instincts, and a feeling of hunger will often be felt so strongly that it dampens other bad feelings. It thus becomes something you can hide behind. Again, here food is used as a tool by removing it, to control the pain one has psychologically.
  2. Control where one has no control:
    Eating disorders often develop at a young age, as a teenager or as a young adult. Often a situation can cause you to feel like you are losing control of everything. The only thing you can control is food and your body. The feeling of being able to control the number on the scale can give an enormous sense of mastery. Concerned comments like “you’ve lost so much weight, are you all right?” can therefore feel like a reward. Precisely because it confirms that you can do it. Losing control can happen in many arenas in life, and in many different situations. There can be extreme cases such as divorce, violence or abuse, but there can also be grades at school, friends or inner turmoil.

Get help changing tools

Whatever the underlying cause of an eating disorder, it is important to understand that it is there. And that it is there means that there is something that needs to come out and that needs to be processed. It is often safest and wisest to get help to process an underlying cause. Regardless of whether you feel it is small, or don’t quite know what it is. As long as it is a behavior that is developing negatively and that is not in your best interest, then there is good enough reason to get help.

There is nothing shameful about eating disorders, as it is a defense mechanism where you use the tools you have available. This shows that you have the ability to use tools. However, it is not the best solution for how to handle the challenges. By accepting help, you can get new and better ways of dealing with the challenges . Then you can learn techniques that support your physical and mental health rather than at the expense of them. You are not weak – you are strong. You just need to be strong FOR yourself and not AGAINST yourself.