Considering Therapy For an Eating Disorder? Take Our Eating Disorder Quiz

February 27, 2024 by Zencare Team

Eating food is how we nourish our bodies, which can be said without exaggeration. On top of our need for food for sustenance, many people turn to food for pleasure, and it has become a great hobby, an enjoyable way to engage in self-care, and a way to connect with loved ones and one’s culture.

When regular eating behaviors get interrupted for a while, it impacts a relationship with food. For some people, these interruptions can turn into eating disorders. But what are eating disorders? And how do you know if your eating behaviors cross the line into eating disorder territory?

a group of adult friends sitting at a picnic together, eating food and talking

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are a category of mental health conditions marked by unhealthy eating behaviors that impact a person’s ability to live their normal daily lives. Eating disorders not only have a psychological component but also a physical component, as eating disorders impede a person’s ability to eat food for sustenance.

Emotionally, eating disorders can lead a person to be preoccupied with food or their body. This preoccupation gets in the way of taking care of themselves and their social relationships. Because their attitudes about food and eating may become warped due to this mental health condition, people with eating disorders tend to engage in unhealthy thought patterns that can lead to anxiety or depression, as well as low self-esteem. They also tend to hold harmful beliefs about their bodies, which can motivate them to change their body shape or weight.

Physically, when someone has an eating disorder, their body cannot maintain its regular digestion processes, which can have severe consequences. Dramatic weight loss or weight gain is the most well-known symptom of eating disorders, and other physical symptoms include:

For those who engage in excessive exercise to burn more calories, their bodies can become depleted of the important nutrients and energy sources they need to keep going.

How do you know if you have an eating disorder?

Some signs you may have an eating disorder are if you struggle with food in social settings, have rigid rules around eating, suffer from body dysmorphia or are exercising a lot — while these signs are common, eating disorders may present differently from person to person. We’ve created an eating disorder quiz to help you find out if you might have an eating disorder and could benefit from seeing a therapist, or being evaluated by a professional. By going through these questions, you’ll get a sense if your attitudes about and behaviors around food and your body align with eating disorder symptoms.

Eating disorder quiz

It’s important to note that this online eating disorder quiz is a screening test and is not intended to diagnose an illness. If you are struggling with eating disorder behaviors, we encourage you to use the resources at the end of this article or find an experienced eating disorder treatment professional near you. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please dial 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

What causes eating disorders?

Eating disorders look different across different people, and there is also a wide range of causes behind people’s eating disorders. Traumatic experiences or painful memories of adverse events can lead to the development of an eating disorder, with roots in trauma, anxiety, the need for control, or perfectionism. Eating disorders may also begin during major periods of change, such as starting college, a change in relationship status, during or after pregnancy, or after diagnosis of a chronic or life changing illness. Other eating disorders can be tied to other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or OCD. Eating disorders might also develop in response to social or cultural expectations, as dictated by beauty standards.

No matter how an eating disorder develops, it’s important to reach out for help once identified. With both severe physical impacts and distressing emotional impacts, eating disorders can be incredibly debilitating.

Types of eating disorders

Many people, when asked about eating disorders, may picture in their minds someone who is extremely thin and battling anorexia nervosa. However, there are many types of eating disorders, and people of all body types can experience the negative impact of this mental health condition.

What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?

Anorexia leads to self-starvation that can have huge consequences on a person’s weight, and people with bulimia often maintain a normal weight, while going through cycles of binging and purging. Both tend to center around unhealthy relationships with food and a desire to be thin.

Other symptoms of anorexia include a specific fear of becoming fat, which leads to constant body checking on top of a distorted body image. People with anorexia may become fixated with food, learning how many calories each food has and avoiding eating foods that are calorie dense. The bodies of people with anorexia begin to lose their ability to perceive hunger cues, which can lead to more skipped meals and greater weight loss.

Bulimia also leads to a fear of getting fat and a preoccupation with food. The main difference is that those with bulimia engage in a cycle of dieting and binge-eating followed by compensatory purging behaviors such as vomiting or induced expulsion of the stomach's contents. This interrupts regular digestion, which can have severe consequences on a person’s overall health.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia nervosa is a mental health condition describing those who hold an unhealthy drive to eat healthy food. This unhealthy drive gets in the way of social connection and an ability to function at school or work, and can lead to distressing emotions such as anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem, and obsession.

Orthorexia is a difficult eating disorder to identify, as “healthy eating” as a concept is generally seen as a positive endeavor. Orthorexia takes healthy eating to another level, however, and leads to a rigidity around eating that has a negative impact, particularly when entire food groups are cut out of someone’s diet and when they avoid social settings where they cannot adhere to their food standards.

What is binge eating?

Binge eating disorder is one marked by the intake of a large amount of food in a set period. Many people overeat on various occasions, including holidays, however those with binge eating disorder do so regularly and with intense adverse emotions like lack of control, shame, self-disgust, and guilt. Binges tend to last around two hours and are generally done in isolation, and food intake continues well past when the individual feels full.

What is rumination disorder?

Rumination disorder is a less well-known eating disorder where a person, without trying to, regurgitates undigested food, which leads to an inability for food to continue its way through the digestive tract. This interruption can cause a heightened sense of anxiety and lead individuals to avoid social situations including food. This pattern tends to come with physical discomfort in the stomach, a feeling of being full, nausea, and unintentional weight loss.

What is pica disorder?

Pica disorder describes when a person has a craving or desire to eat something that is not food, such as dirt, wood, metal, or rocks. Pica is most seen in children, pregnant women, those with an autism spectrum disorder, or those with severe mental health conditions. Depending on the item swallowed, pica disorder can range from being harmless to requiring the intervention of emergency medical professionals. Many people who have pica disorder feel a heavy shame around their inclinations and may isolate themselves because of this shame.

What is ARFID?

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, shortened to ARFID, is an eating disorder where individuals don’t get the nutrients they need because of avoidant or restrictive eating behaviors. People with ARFID tend to avoid certain foods, including foods with a specific color, texture, taste, or foods tied to previous negative experiences like choking or vomiting. Some people with ARFID also avoid any new foods, limiting their diet to only a few “safe” foods. ARFID comes from a place of fear and anxiety, as the individual with ARFID, when faced with certain foods, may feel that their physical safety is at risk should they eat that food. This differs from the restrictive eating behaviors of those with anorexia, who restrict their eating due to a fear of becoming fat.

Therapy for eating disorders and disordered eating

Because of the severity of eating disorders’ symptoms, getting into treatment early is important for the trajectory of the mental health condition and its physical consequences.

There are several therapy approaches specifically designed to help those with eating disorders, including:

These therapy approaches are most effective when included in a comprehensive treatment plan that includes medical professionals like doctors, dietitians, psychiatrists, and nurses. While some people attend outpatient treatment programs, there are also inpatient treatment programs available.

Al Hoberman, MT-BC, LCAT says, "If you’re concerned about your relationship to food, it’s never too early to seek out help. We’re so bombarded with messaging about how we’re supposed to look, feel, and act, that it can be really hard to tune in to what is healthy and feels right for your own body. So even if you don’t think you might have an eating disorder, but you’re experiencing any kind of stress around body image, weight, dieting or exercise, seeking out a qualified therapist can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to get help."

Finding a therapist who has specialty training in helping individuals with eating disorders has a huge impact on eating disorder recovery. Because eating disorders are a unique mental health condition because of their intense behavioral and therefore physical components, it’s important to connect with a therapist who has experience in treating eating disorders.

To find a therapist like this in your area, use Zencare’s therapist directory by using the Specialty filter and selecting “Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating”. By reading through a therapist’s profile and watching their introductory video, you can get a sense of who you would like to work with, and reach out for a consultation call.

Additional Resources

To get immediate help for an eating disorder, there are many excellent resources available nationwide:

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) also supports those impacted by eating disorders through educational resources and through an annual eating disorder awareness week that raises awareness about eating disorders and their impacts.

With so many messages surrounding us about food and weight, it’s hard to know when attitudes around food or eating behaviors go from being healthy to being unhealthy. By learning more about eating disorders, their symptoms, and by taking our quiz, you’ll know when to reach out for help so you can continue to take care of yourself.