You’ve Never Heard of These 5 Eating Disorders

Most people are familiar with anorexia, bulimia, and even binge-eating disorder, but what about lesser-known eating disorders? What starts with exercising and watching what you eat can quickly spiral into an eating disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, although commonly perceived as lifestyle choices, eating disorders are serious, often fatal illnesses. Although each eating disorder must be diagnosed according to a list of specific symptoms, common signs include obsessions with food, body weight, and shape.

In the U.S. alone, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from some type of eating disorder at one point during their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Whether or not you’re shocked by these numbers, it’s time everyone learned about five eating disorders that deserve more attention, research, and compassion.

1. Pica

woman's hands holding ice

A person with pica consumes non-food items, such as ice, dirt, or clay. | iStock.com

People who struggle with pica are often considered strange, as they consume non-food materials with no nutritional value, such as dirt, clay, ice, or paint. According to MedlinePlus, pica may occur during pregnancy if a lack of certain nutrients for the fetus triggers unusual cravings. And while pica is often seen more among young children than adults (between 10% and 30% of children ages 1 to 2 have these behaviors, says FamilyDoctor.org), it can be serious.

2. Orthorexia

woman at grocery store

A person with orthorexia obsesses over “healthy” eating. | iStock.com

Although it’s not officially classified as a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition eating disorder, orthorexia has become a widely accepted term in recent years. Originally coined by Steven Bratman, M.D., orthorexia describes people who have an unhealthy obsession with “healthy” eating. Sure, this may not sound like such a bad thing at first glance, but when evaluated more closely, this is a serious problem.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize the distinction between healthy eating and orthorexia. A person with orthorexia will demonstrate compulsive behavior and is mentally preoccupied with affirmative and restrictive dietary practices, which may escalate over time. When a person violates their own personal set of dietary rules and restrictions, they become ridden with fear and shame. Their day revolves around what they’ll eat, their social behaviors often suffer, and their body image and self-worth depend solely on their ability to eat clean.

3. Purging disorder

Beautiful girl is looking at unhealthy donut with appetite

Purging is a serious disorder. | iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

This sure sounds like bulimia, but it’s not. While some of the symptoms may overlap, purging disorder is a condition in its own right. Purging disorder currently falls under the category of “other specified feeding or eating disorder” in the DSM-5. The main difference between bulimia and this condition is people with purging disorder do not binge and are not underweight. A person will vomit, or use laxatives or diuretics to control weight gain, even after a regular meal or small snack. It’s easy to see how this is a seriously dangerous condition.

4. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

man getting food from fridge

A person with ARFID only eats a handful of select foods, often without much nutritional value. | iStock.com

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, also known as ARFID, stretches far beyond someone who’s just an annoyingly picky eater. Formerly known as Feeding Disorder of Infancy and Early Childhood, ARFID has since been revised in the DSM-5 and is considered an eating disorder not otherwise specified. ARFID occurs when a person actively and consistently fails to consume enough food of nutritional value. Think of when you were a super picky kid before you grew out of those picky eating habits. Imagine a world where you never tried sushi because you were fearful of it, or never ventured into the world of walnuts, or Greek salad, or any other food you now love. Well, according to The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, that’s the reality for some adults.

5. Rumination

young girl eating pizza

Rumination should be taken seriously. | Debbi Morello/Getty Images

Now included in the DSM-5, rumination involves repeatedly spitting out or throwing up food that’s either been undigested or partially digested, and then re-chewing and re-swallowing it, says The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria. Often occurring within 30 minutes of every meal, rumination is a subconscious behavior rather than a conscious decision. According to Mayo Clinic, the condition has long been known to affect infants and people with developmental disabilities, but can occur in other children, teens, and adults.