Up to 24 million Americans suffer from disordered eating. Anyone can suffer from an eating disorder.
All forms of eating disorders can be fatal. One in 10 people with an eating disorder will die as a direct result of the illness. It is critical for anyone with symptoms of an eating disorder to seek professional help. Early treatment gives the greatest chance for a full recovery.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
- Anorexia involves a severe restriction of calories; there may be a fear of weight gain and strict "rules" about eating.
- Bulimia can involve these same fears and restrictions, but also involves binging and purging. This involves vomiting, exercise or use of laxatives.
- People with binge eating disorder eating large amounts of food to cope with feelings. Food is often eaten without attention to hunger or fullness.
It's not always possible to tell by his or her appearance the amount of physical or emotional danger someone with an eating disorder is in. A person with an eating disorder may display one symptom or many.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia
Someone with anorexia may show any of the following:
- Dramatic weight loss within a period of months
- Wearing baggy clothes or layers to hide body shape
- A preoccupation with weight, exercise and/or calories
- Food restriction and avoidance
- Belief life will be better if he or she can lose weight
- Use of diet pills, laxatives and/or enemas
- Isolation and fear of eating with others
- Food rituals and secretive eating patterns
- Disposing of food in strange places
- Keeping a "food diary" or lists of calories and exercise
- Hair loss, sunken eyes, pale skin
- Dizziness and headaches
- Low self-esteem and need for approval from others
- Feeling cold
- Low blood pressure and heart rate
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Constipation, stomach pain
- Perfectionist personality
- Loss of sexual desire
- Mood swings, depression, anxiety and/or fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia
Signs of bulimia include many of those listed above, and also may include:
- Bruised or callused knuckles, bloodshot eyes, light bruising under eyes
- Sore throat and/or swollen glands
- Binging and/or purging
- Fear of not being able to control eating
- Trips to the bathroom following meals, sometimes using running water to hide the sound of vomiting
Signs and Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
In addition to the signs listed for anorexia and bulimia, compulsive overeating also may include:
- Chronic dieting
- Hiding food in strange places to eat at a later time
- Blaming hardship in life on weight
- Belief food is his/her only friend
- Excessive sweating and shortness of breath
- High blood pressure and/or cholesterol
- Leg and joint pain, decreased activity
- Weight gain
Eating disorders affect health in many ways. They put nonstop strain on your body and brain. The lack of nutrition can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone loss and electrolyte imbalances.
- Anorexia. The process of starvation can affect most organ systems. Physical dangers include constipation, low heart rate/blood pressure, abdominal pain, dry skin, fine body hair and lack of menstrual periods. Anorexia also causes anemia, bone loss, kidney problems and changes in brain function.
- Bulimia. Vomiting and laxative abuse can lead to swollen glands, vitamin and mineral imbalance and wearing down of tooth enamel. There also can be long-lasting problems with digestion and the heart.
- Binge Eating Disorder. This disorder brings an increased risk for a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease, arthritis, bone loss and stroke.
For more information, consult a Registered Dietitian.
Reviewed December 2012