Eating disorders currently affect around 8 million Americans. Make sure you know the warning signs and symptoms.

The two predominant eating disorders are known as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

  • Anorexia is characterized by a refusal to maintain a minimal normal body weight.
  • Bulimia is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise.
  • A disturbance in perception of body shape and weight is a fundamental component of both disorders.

Eating disorders result from a combination of behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, and social factors. Those suffering from eating disorders usually ‘feel fat’ and see themselves as overweight, sometimes even despite life-threatening semi-starvation or malnutrition. In the early stages of these disorders, most deny that they have a problem. People with Anorexia and Bulimia tend to be perfectionists, suffer from low self-esteem, and are extremely critical of themselves and their bodies.

Eating disorders frequently co-occur with other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance abuse problems, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Childhood trauma such as sexual abuse may increase the risk of the development of these disorders. Numerous studies indicate that brain chemical imbalances may also be a factor in eating disorders.

There are other medical and psychiatric conditions that share similar symptoms, but the following may be warning signs of an eating disorder:

  • Weight at least 15% less than the normal healthy weight expected for one’s height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, although underweight
  • Self evaluation unduly influenced by body shape and weight
  • Denial of the seriousness of one’s current low body weight
  • Frequent and rapid eating binges, marked by a lack of control
  • The regular induction of vomiting or use of laxatives to expel food intake and lose weight
  • Extreme dieting and/or exercising between binging episodes
  • In females, the ceasing of three or more consecutive menstrual periods
  • Brittle texture of hair and nails
  • Dry skin with a yellowish cast
  • Chronically inflamed sore throat, tooth enamel wear, and/or Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health, Academy for Eating Disorders, American Psychiatric Association, National Eating Disorders Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.