Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders


Eating disorders are illnesses in which people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with food and their body weight.

There are three main types of eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa,

● Bulimia Nervosa and

● Binge Eating Disorder.

People with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa tend to be perfectionists with low self-esteem and are extremely critical of themselves and their bodies. They usually “feel fat” and see themselves as overweight, sometimes even despite life-threatening semi-starvation (or malnutrition). Intense fear of gaining weight and of being fat may become all-pervasive. Early stages of these disorders, patients often deny that they have a problem.

In many cases, eating disorders occur together with other psychiatric disorders like anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcohol and drug abuse problems. New evidence suggests that heredity may play a part in why certain people develop eating disorders, but these disorders also afflict many people who have no prior family history. Without treatment of both the emotional and physical symptoms of these disorders, malnutrition, heart problems, and other potentially fatal conditions can result. However, with proper medical care, those with eating disorders can resume suitable eating habits, and return to better emotional and psychological health.


The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. Researchers believe that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of factors. These include genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.


What are the symptoms of eating disorders?

The symptoms of eating disorders vary, depending on the disorder:

The symptoms of binge-eating include

• Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period

• Eating even when you’re full or not hungry

• Eating fast during binge episodes

• Eating until you’re uncomfortably full

• Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment

• Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating

• Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa include the same symptoms as binge-eating, plus trying to get rid of the food or weight after binging by

• Purging, making yourself throw up, or using laxatives or enemas to speed up the movement of food through your body

• Doing intensive and excessive exercise

• Fasting

Over time, bulimia nervosa can cause health problems such as

• Chronically inflamed and sore throat

• Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area

• Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth. This is caused by the exposure to stomach acid every time you throw up.

GERD (acid reflux) and other gastrointestinal problems

• Severe dehydration from purging

• Electrolyte imbalance, which could be too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals. This can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa include

• Eating very little, to the point of starving yourself

• Intensive and excessive exercise

• Extreme thinness

• Intense fear of gaining weight

• Distorted body image – seeing yourself as overweight even when you are severely underweight

Over time, anorexia nervosa can cause health problems such as

• Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)

• Mild anemia

• Muscle wasting and weakness

• Thin, brittle hair and nails

• Dry, blotchy, or yellowish skin

• Growth of fine hair all over the body

• Severe constipation

Low blood pressure

• Slowed breathing and pulse.

• Feeling cold all the time because of a drop in internal body temperature

• Feeling faint, dizzy, or weak

• Feeling tired all the time


• Damage to the structure and function of the heart

• Brain damage

• Multiorgan failure

Anorexia nervosa can be fatal. Some people with this disorder die of complications from starvation, and others die of suicide.

Some people with eating disorders may also have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use.


It is important to seek treatment early for eating disorders. People with eating disorders are at higher risk for suicide and medical complications. People with eating disorders can often have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use. Complete recovery is possible.

Treatment plans are tailored to individual needs and may include one or more of the following:

● Individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy

● Medical care and monitoring

● Nutritional counseling

● Medications


How are eating disorders diagnosed?

Because eating disorders can be so serious, it is important to seek help if you or a loved one thinks that you might have a problem.

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

• Will take a medical history and ask about your symptoms. It is important to be honest about your eating and exercise behaviors so your provider can help you.

• Will do a physical exam

• May do blood or urine tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms

• May do other tests to see whether you have any other health problems caused by the eating disorder. These can include kidney function tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG).