ANRED logo: eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder: information and resources

Less-well-known eating disorders and related problems

There are many diseases, disorders, and problem conditions involving food, eating, and weight. Here are brief descriptions of problems other than anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

  • Anorexia athletica (compulsive exercising)

    • Not a formal diagnosis. The behaviors are usually a part of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
    • The person repeatedly exercises beyond the requirements for good health.
    • May be a fanatic about weight and diet.
    • Steals time to exercise from work, school, and relationships.
    • Focuses on challenge. Forgets that physical activity can be fun.
    • Defines self-worth in terms of performance
    • Is rarely or never satisfied with athletic achievements.
    • Does not savor victory. Pushes on to the next challenge immediately.
    • Justifies excessive behavior by defining self as a "special" elite athlete.
    • Compulsive exercising is not an official diagnosis as are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. We include it here because many people who are preoccupied with food and weight exercise compulsively in attempts to control weight. The real issues are not weight and performance excellence but rather control and self-respect. For more information, go to Athletes With Eating Disorders and Males and Females and Obligatory Exercise.

  • Body dysmorphic disorder

    • BDD is thought to be a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is not a variant of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
    • The person with an eating disorder says, "I am so fat." The person with BDD says, "I am so ugly."
    • BDD often includes social phobias. Sufferers are shy and withdrawn in new situations and with unfamiliar people.
    • BDD affects about two percent of the people in the United States. It strikes males and females equally. Seventy percent of cases appear before age eighteen.
    • Sufferers are excessively concerned about appearance, in particular perceived flaws of face, hair, and skin. They are convinced these flaws exist in spite of reassurances from friends and family members who usually can see nothing to justify such intense worry and anxiety.
    • BDD sufferers are at elevated risk for despair and suicide. In some cases they undergo multiple, unnecessary plastic surgeries.
    • BDD is treatable and begins with an evaluation by a physician and mental health care provider. Treatments thus far found to be effective include medication (especially meds that adjust serotonin levels in the brain) and cognitive-behavioral therapy. A clinician makes the diagnosis and recommends treatment based on the needs and circumstances of each person.

  •  Muscle dysmorphic disorder (bigorexia)

    • A subtype of body dysmorphic disorder, described above.
    • Sometimes called bigorexia, muscle dysmorphia is the opposite of anorexia nervosa. People with this disorder obsess about being small and undeveloped. They worry that they are too little and too frail. Even if they have good muscle mass, they believe their muscles are inadequate.

  • Infection-triggered, auto immune subtype of anorexia nervosa in young children

    • Not an official eating disorder, but the topic has gathered the interest of researchers.
    • May be related to a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder triggered by an auto immune process involving bacteria or viruses and parts of the nervous system.
    • May be related to pediatric infection-triggered auto immune neuropsychiatric disorders (PITANDS) and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus (PANDAS)
    • Suspected when symptoms and behaviors typical of anorexia nervosa appear suddenly in a young child, or when symptoms and behaviors in a young child worsen quickly with no other explanation
    • And when the child has had a recent respiratory, throat, or other infection.
    • Antibiotics, antivirals, and/or vaccines may be part of the treatment, either after refusal to eat appears or as prevention.
    • The first step in treatment is a thorough evaluation done by a pediatrician who is familiar with PITANDS and PANDAS research.
    • Reference for physicians: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 36, Number 8.

  • Orthorexia nervosa

    • Not an official eating disorder diagnosis, but the concept is useful. The name was coined by Steven Bratman, M.D. to describe "a pathological fixation on eating "proper" or "pure" or "superior" food.
    • People with orthorexia nervosa feel superior to others who eat "improper" food, which might include non-organic or junk foods and items found in regular grocery stores, as opposed to health food stores.
    • Orthorexics obsess over what to eat, how much to eat, how to prepare food "properly," and where to obtain "pure" and "proper" foods.
    • Eating the "right" food becomes an important ,or even the primary, focus of life. One's worth or goodness is seen in terms of what one does or does not eat. Personal values, relationships, career goals, and friendships become less important than the quality and timing of what is consumed.
    • Perhaps related to, or a type of, obsessive-compulsive disorder

  • Night-eating syndrome

    • The person has little or no appetite for breakfast. Delays first meal for several hours after waking up. Is often upset about how much was eaten the night before.
    • Most of the day's calories are eaten late in the day or at night.

  • Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder

    • Thought to be a sleep disorder, not an eating disorder
    • Person sleep eats and may sleep walk as well

  •  Rumination syndrome

    • Person eats, swallows, and then regurgitates food back into the mouth where it is chewed and swallowed again. Process may be repeated several times or for several hours per episode.
    • Rumination may be voluntary or involuntary.
    • Ruminators report that regurgitated material does not taste bitter, and that it is returned to the mouth with a gentle burp, not violent gagging or retching -- not even nausea.
  • Gourmand syndrome

    • Person is preoccupied with fine food, including its purchase, preparation, presentation, and consumption.
    • Exceedingly rare; thought to be caused by injury to the brain

  • Prader-Willi syndrome

    • A congenital problem usually associated with mental retardation and behavior problems, including a drive to eat constantly that will not be denied.

  • Pica

    •  A craving for non-food items such as dirt, clay, plaster, chalk, or paint chips.

  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome

    • Cycles of frequent vomiting, usually (but not always) found in children
    • May be related to, or share neurological mechanisms with, migraine headaches

  •  Chewing and spitting

    • The person puts food in his/her mouth, tastes it, chews it, and then spits it out.
    • Some people think this is a separate eating disorder. It is not. It is a calorie-control behavior commonly seen in anorexia nervosa, and sometimes in bulimia and eating-disorder-not-otherwise-specified. The person is creative, allowing some experience and enjoyment of food but avoiding calories. Since essential nutrients are not incorporated into the body, chewing and spitting can be just as harmful to health as are starvation dieting and binge eating followed by purging.


 Warning! Please Note: ANRED information is not a substitute for medical or psychological evaluation and treatment. For help with the physical and emotional problems associated with eating disorders, talk to your physician and a mental health professional.


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