Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder — include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences for females and males.
Anorexia nervosa typically appears in early to mid-adolescence and is the inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is clearly too low. This disorder creates an intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain. The person’s self-esteem is overly related to body image, and they have an inability to recognize the severity of the situation. Approximately 90 to 95 percent of anorexia nervosa sufferers are girls and women, and between 0.5 to 1 percent of American women suffer from this disorder. Between 5 to 20 percent of individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa will die. The probability of death increases within that range, depending on the length of the condition.
Eating disorders experts have found that prompt intensive treatment significantly improves the chances of recovery. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa:
- Dramatic weight loss
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams and dieting
- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.)
- Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss
- Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat”
- Denial of hunger
- Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate)
- Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food
- Excessive, rigid exercise regimen - despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
Anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation. The body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, so it is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy. This “slowing down” can have serious medical consequences:
- Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
- Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
- Muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
- Fainting, fatigue and overall weakness.
- Dry hair and skin, hair loss is common.
- Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder that is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of measures to counter the binge eating. The prevalence of BED is estimated to be approximately 1 to 5 percent of the general population and affects women slightly more often than men. Estimates indicate that about 60 percent of people struggling with binge eating disorder are female, 40 percent are male. People who struggle with binge eating disorder can be of normal or heavier than average weight, and BED is often associated with symptoms of depression. People struggling with binge eating disorder often express distress, shame and guilt over their eating behaviors.
- Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food, but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
- A feeling of being out of control during the binge eating episodes.
- Feelings of strong shame or guilt regarding the binge eating.
- Indications that the binge eating is out of control, such as eating when not hungry, eating to the point of discomfort, or eating alone because of shame about the behavior.
The health risks of BED are most commonly those associated with clinical obesity. Some of the potential health consequences of binge eating disorder include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Heart disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Gallbladder disease
- Musculoskeletal problems
Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating. Bulimia affects 1 to 2 percent of adolescent and young adult women, and approximately 80 percent of bulimia nervosa patients are female. People struggling with bulimia usually appear to be of average body weight. Many people struggling with bulimia nervosa recognize that their behaviors are unusual and perhaps dangerous to their health. Bulimia is frequently associated with symptoms of depression and changes in social adjustment. Risk of death from suicide or medical complications is markedly increased for eating disorders.
- Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
- A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes.
- Self-esteem overly related to body image.
The chance for recovery increases the earlier bulimia is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of bulimia nervosa:
- Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or finding wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
- Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.
- Excessive, rigid exercise regimen - despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the compulsive need to “burn off” calories taken in.
- Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
- Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
- Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
- Creation of lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
- In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
- Continued exercise despite injury; overuse injuries.
Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system and purging behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the health consequences of bulimia include:
- Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
- Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
- Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
- Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating.
For more information, visit www.nationaledatingdisorders.org or talk to your healthcare provider.
Source: National Eating Disorders Association