Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a serious and potentially life-threatening mental health condition that affects all aspects of a person’s emotional and physical health. It is estimated that 20 million American women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. While eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa typically develop during the teen years, these disorders can happen at any time. Women account for 85 to 95 percent of the people who suffer from bulimia and anorexia cases and approximately 65 percent of binge eating disorders. A review of nearly 50 years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

Signs & Symptoms

Unfortunately, many people with eating disorders do not believe they need treatment. Peer and societal pressure to be thin is reinforced by the media, which feeds “ideal” images and unreal expectations to be physically perfect.

With anorexia nervosa, the body is starved from the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Body processes slow down to conserve energy, resulting in dangerous consequences:

  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, raising the risk of heart failure and death
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), resulting in dry, brittle bones
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness

The binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia affect the digestive system and can affect the heart and major organ function, including:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeat, possible heart failure and death
  • Gastric rupture during periods of bingeing
  • 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
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis

Behavioral warning signs that someone has an eating disorder include:

  • Skipping meals or finding excuses not to eat
  • Preparing one’s own meal, rather than eating what has been prepared for the family
  • Usage of dietary supplements, laxative or products for weight loss
  • Excessive exercise
  • Leaving during meals to use the toilet
  • Eating in secret

Treatment of an eating disorder depends on its type, but can include therapy, nutrition education, and medication in an in-patient or out-patient setting depending on severity.

Additional Resources

NationalEatingDisorders.org: Get the Facts on Eating Disorders

Bulimia.com: Finding the Best Anorexia and Bulimia and Eating Disorder Treatment for Women

Eating Disorders Hope: Eating Disorder Statistics and Research

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