Anorexia nervosa is arguably the most well-known eating disorder. It generally develops in adolescence or young adulthood and is more common among women than men. Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder in which a person obsesses about their weight and what they eat. The disorder is typically characterized by low body weight, distorted body image, and unwarranted fear of being overweight. Individuals with anorexia may engage in certain behaviors to prevent weight gain or to lose weight. These behaviors can be split to create two different anorexia subtypes.
Anorexia Nervosa Subtypes
People with anorexia nervosa generally view themselves as overweight, even if they’re severely underweight. They tend to constantly weigh themselves, avoid certain types of foods, and severely restrict the number of calories they consume. Common symptoms of anorexia include being underweight compared to others of similar age and height, restricting their eating, relentless pursuit of thinness, distorted body image, and denial of being severely underweight.
Because of the varying compensatory behaviors individuals with anorexia may engage in to prevent weight loss or to lose weight, anorexia has officially been split into two subtypes: restricting type and binge-eating and purging type.
Anorexia Nervosa Restricting Type
People who meet the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa show a fear of weight gain and resulting changes to their eating pattern, regardless of the subtype they have. However, people with anorexia restricting type do not have regular episodes of binge eating and/or purging. They simply restrict their food or caloric intake on a chronic basis, hence the name.
These individuals may count their calories, skip meals, restrict certain types of foods (such as carbohydrates or sugars), or follow obsessive rules about food and eating. They may also exercise excessively to avoid gaining weight or to lose weight, and they constantly weigh themselves.
One study found that individuals with anorexia nervosa restricting type tend to have a lower body mass index and are less likely to use diet pills compared to individuals with anorexia binge eating type.1 Another study found that those who have restricting type anorexia are more likely to experience medical complications related to being underweight, such as lower bone mineral density, liver problems, and low blood sugar levels.2
The chronic undereating common in people with the restrictive type of anorexia can also lead to malnutrition and a host of other problems. If you or someone you care about is currently showing signs of restrictive type anorexia, our Philadelphia eating disorder clinic offers a multitude of eating disorder programs - including treatment for both subtypes of anorexia - that can help.
Anorexia Nervosa Binge-Purge Type
Individuals with anorexia may transition from one subtype to the other. For instance, it’s common for people with restrictive anorexia to transition to the anorexia purging type. However, it’s not common for people to transition from binging/purging type to restrictive. This is likely because chronic food restriction can actually drive people to binge to compensate for the deprivation caused by undereating.
Anorexia nervosa purging type is a form of anorexia in which the person binges or consumes a large amount of food in a short period (such as two hours or less) and then purges the food by either taking laxatives or self-induced vomiting. Individuals with binge-purge-type anorexia may also use diuretics or enemas to get rid of the calories they’ve consumed. Additionally, though this type is similar to bulimia nervosa, the main difference between the two is that typically one with anorexia nervosa purging type will also have low body weight. In contrast, those with bulimia nervosa may be in the normal weight range for their age and height.
While a singular cause of anorexia nervosa has not been determined, research suggested that environmental and genetic factors play major roles in the development of this eating disorder. Examples of contributing factors include:
- Cultural and social influences on body shape, size, and weight
- Professions and careers that promote thinness and weight loss
- Family and childhood traumas
- Family history of eating disorders
- Growing up with someone who has an eating disorder
- Peer pressure to sustain a particular body shape or weight
Regardless of the cause, anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder that requires professional care and support. Whether it’s binge-purge type or restrictive type anorexia you or a loved one is battling, our Philadelphia eating disorder treatment can make recovery possible.
Get Help for Anorexia Nervosa at Banyan
Anorexia nervosa is among the deadliest of mental health disorders out there, presenting various health risks, from osteoporosis to bradycardia and more. If you or a loved one is currently coping with this condition, do not wait a moment longer to reach out for assistance. Our specialists at Banyan Philadelphia can help.
- Science Direct - Examining the utility of narrowing anorexia nervosa subtypes for adults
- Taylor & Francis Online - A comparison of the metabolic complications and hospital course of severe anorexia nervosa by binge-purge and restricting subtypes