Often, eating disorders come with unhealthy body weight, distorted body image, or obsessions with food. People with eating disorders can also have problems with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
There are many types of common eating disorders, and specific symptoms can hint towards a person having one or more of these conditions.
This eating disorder can occur in people of all ages, but most frequently begins during young adulthood. It is characterized by a distorted self-image, unhealthy weight loss, and inability to maintain a healthy body weight. While there is a common myth that anorexia simply means not eating, there are many other behaviors that people with anorexia use to control their weight. People with this disorder can also exercise compulsively, use laxatives to minimize their food digestion, or engage in other self-destructive habits that center around losing weight.
You cannot tell that someone has this disorder based off of their appearance. For example, it does not always hold true that a person must be very skinny to have anorexia nervosa. That’s why it’s important to look out for these signs and symptoms.
These are behavioral symptoms that appear in people with anorexia. These are shifts in attitudes and thoughts that may indicate a serious eating disorder.
- Obsession with weight, food, calories, and dieting
- Avoidance of certain food groups (ex: no carbohydrates)
- Fear of gaining weight or feelings of being fat despite weight loss
- Developing compulsions (ex: rearranging food on a plate)
- Being self-conscious about eating in public
- Negative outlook on body image and body weight
These are the physical manifestations of anorexia, independent of thoughts or ideas that lead to weight-managing behaviors.
- Drastic weight loss
- Dry skin
- Dizziness and nausea
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fine hair on body (lanugo)
- Cavities or discoloration of the teeth (from exposure to stomach acid)
- Muscle weakness and thinness of bones
- Yellow discoloration of the skin
- Cold, cracked hands
- Weakened immune system
- Low blood pressure
In extreme cases, anorexia nervosa can result in organ failure, electrolyte imbalances, and cardiac arrest. This condition can also cause brain damage and infertility, particularly when it goes untreated for a long period of time.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) is an eating disorder closely linked with anorexia nervosa. It has similar signs and symptoms, excluding a distorted body image or fear of gaining weight. This disorder can be characterized by a person becoming dependent on enteral feeding or solely eating oral nutritional supplements and is more common in childhood. As a result, it can stunt growth in youth.
This condition is less common and not as well known as anorexia nervosa, but it can also be life-threatening and harmful to crucial development in a person’s life.
A constant cycle of bingeing and purging (or put simply, overeating and intentionally vomiting) is what characterizes another type of eating disorder called bulimia nervosa. For a diagnosis, bingeing episodes must occur once a week and persist for at least three months. Typically, patients suffer from distorted body image and self-hatred.
This condition is serious and life threatening; many people with bulimia nervosa also struggle with self-harm, substance abuse, and impulsivity, along with other dangerous issues.
- Overly concerned with weight loss and dieting
- Uncomfortable eating around others
- Feeling compelled to purge immediately after eating (with vomiting, laxatives, diet pills, excessive exercise, etc.)
- Hoarding food in strange places
- Feelings of isolation
- Extreme mood swings
- Teeth are discolored or stained from vomiting
- Cuts and calluses across finger joint (from induced vomiting)
- Inflamed, sore throat
- Swollen glands in the neck or jaw area
- Severe dehydration
- Muscle weakness
- Yellow skin
- Swelling of feet
- Fine hair on body
- Slower healing
In the long term, bulimia nervosa can cause acid reflux disorder, gastrointestinal problems, electrolyte imbalance (which can lead to a stroke or a heart attack), and cardiac arrest. If you are dealing with bulimia nervosa or suspect that your loved one is, it’s imperative that you seek help immediately.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. It is distinguished by eating an abnormally large quantity of food within a two hour period and loss of self-control (over-eating) during the episode. People who develop this disorder tend to be overweight because binging is not followed by purging. That said, some people binge and then do not eat for long periods of time, so weight is not always an accurate indicator for this disorder.
Binge eating can come in many forms: eating too rapidly, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating when full, and eating alone due to embarrassment. Unlike the other eating disorders, people with binge eating disorder often have a sense of awareness of the problem and they feel distaste, depressed, or guilty after an episode.
Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms
- Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time
- Leaving empty wrappers or containers lying around
- Avoiding eating food in front of others
- New practices with food (cutting out carbohydrates or other food groups from the diet)
- Hoarding food in peculiar places
- Frequent bouts of dieting
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Extreme or obsessive concern with body image
- Skipping meals and eating at strange times
- Developing compulsions (not allowing other foods to touch, excessively chewing)
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight
- Stomach cramps, constipation, or acid reflux
- Difficulties concentrating
- Difficulties sleeping
Common long-term health consequences associated with binge eating disorder are obesity and worsened mental health. Other adverse effects include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Eating Disorder Risk Factors
These factors are not direct causes of eating disorders, but they often coincide with this condition, and a combination of these things can significantly increase the risk of having an eating disorder:
- Having a parent with an eating disorder
- Personality traits: a perfectionist, for example, would be more likely to have an eating disorder
- Cultural influences: certain types of media may promote unhealthy body ideals
- Gender: women are more likely than men to develop bulimia and anorexia; men are more likely to develop binge eating disorder
Getting diagnosed with an eating disorder is the first step to recovery. Treatment often includes a combination of psychological and nutritional counseling, along with medical and psychiatric monitoring. Moreover, treatment should address all factors that contributed to the eating disorder, such as cultural or environmental influence and destructive views of body image.
Treatment may include:
- Individual, group or family counseling
- Medical care and monitoring
- Nutritional counseling
- Medications, such as antidepressants
Medical professionals that can help include:
Treatment can look different for everyone, but seeking medical attention is critical to recovery. Medical and mental health professionals can help form normal eating habits, change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, and establish a plan to prevent a relapse. Support from family members and loved ones also helps guide treatment.
Get the Treatment You Need
Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to overcome alone. Thankfully, you are not alone. Our mental health experts are ready and waiting to help you start on the path to recovery. If you’d like to discuss our treatment options, you can fill out this contact form or call our admissions specialists at 352-596-4306.