Warning Signs and Symptoms

Sadly, many of the health problems associated with late-stage eating disorders are irreversible.   That means early detection of the problem by loved ones is absolutely essential to the long-term physical and mental health of the afflicted individual.  Every eating disorder, however, has a different set of signs and symptoms.   Consider the following eating disorder warning signs if you or someone you love is suffering from bulimia, anorexia, binge eating or other issues.

Eating Disorder Physical Signs of a Problem

An eating disorder is an mental health illness that cannot be overcome without help and support. With a 30%-50% relapse rate, individuals who go into eating disorder treatment will have much greater success with their recovery. There are a variety of different signs of an eating disorder, and some can obviously present themselves in a way that is detectable to those closest to the individual suffering, and others can better be detected by a medical doctor. Some of the most common signs that fall into both categories, include the following:

  • Eating large amounts of food at once (larger than standard portion sizes) including food that is high in calories
  • Activities to compensate for the periods of binging, including excessive exercise, fasting or purging
  • Binge eating and purging 2 or more times per week for at least 3 months
  • Misuse of medications like laxatives, diuretics, and enemas
  • Constant exercise during free time, or even changing plans to exercise
  • Constant criticism of body image or comparison to others
  • Lack of control over eating during binging periods
  • Stained or deteriorated teeth due to stomach acid from purging
  • Thinning hair and unhealthy looking skin due to lack of nutrition
  • Low body weight or unhealthy BMI while still wanting to lose weight

The above are some of the most common signs of an eating disorder, and if someone is experiencing these then treatment is required.

Symptoms of Specific Disorders

Of all the major eating disorders, anorexia nervosa carries with it the most outward set of potential warning signs. This is a very good thing, since anorexia is also the most dangerous eating disorder in the canon.
  • An obsession with one’s weight.   To the anorexic, body weight is everything.  They will spend hours in front of a mirror, thinking about new dieting methods or reading the caloric counts of their food.
  • Always proclaiming that they are too fat.   In the mind of the anorexic, they look fat and disgusting, even after they have lost an alarming amount of weight.
  • Secretive or strange eating habits. Look for strange eating habits, such as chewing food but then spitting it out before swallowing.
  • Lying about food intake. The anorexic will tell friends and family that they are full, or have already eaten instead of sitting down to a meal – anything to avoid eating in front of others or revealing the true nature of their condition.

  • Going to the bathroom after eating.   This is when most bulimics will engage in their purging behavior. They will excuse themselves after the meal, go to the bathroom to purge and may even run the water in a nearby sink in order to mask the noise.
  • Bad breath.  Repeated vomiting will cause the bulimic to experience bad breath every time they attempt to purge.
  • Trying to mask bad breath.  Watch for constant gum chewing or the use of mouthwash after meals in order to mask the odor of vomit.
  • Secretive behavior. The bulimic may not want to eat in front of other people.  They may sneak away in order to eat without anyone else around.

eating disorder issuesConsequences of Eating Disorders

More than 10 million females and one million males in the United States are fighting a losing battle with one of the two major eating disorders – bulimia or anorexia. In addition, it is estimated that millions more are struggling with a lesser-known dysfunctional eating behavior known as binge eating disorder. The most effective way to conquer the war these eating disorders wage on the mind and body is with professional eating disorder treatment.

For some, the body has suffered through so much physical and mental damage that it cannot regain all its healthy functions once the behaviors associated with an eating disorder are halted. Nevertheless, treatment is vitally important for these individuals to stop further harm to their body and mind so they don’t become part of the 20 percent who have a deadly outcome from these mental health disorders.

Anorexic Behavior+

When someone has anorexia, they deprive themselves of food a and literally self-induce starvation. The body’s natural response to a lack of food is to slow down the metabolism to conserve energy and to breakdown muscles and internal organs in order to obtain energy. Parts of the liver and intestines are sacrificed first and then the heart and kidneys are used next. If this process is allowed to go on for too long, it will cause irreversible damage to the many of the vital organs in the body and eventually death.

The following is a list of many of the health consequences of anorexia:

  • Dehydration from lack of water and electrolytes.
  • Low Blood Pressure due to a reduction in the size of the heart muscle.
  • Cardiac Arrest due to the starvation of the cells of the heart muscle.
  • Kidney Failure from a lack of nutrition to the cells of the kidney and extended dehydration.
  • Osteoporosis caused by a lack of protein and calcium, causing your bones to become brittle and deteriorate.
  • Sexual Dysfunction happens because the body is deprived of the fat necessary to produce estrogen and testosterone in order to remain fertile and maintain sexual health.
  • Abnormal Hair Growth could mean fine hair grows all over the body in an attempt to keep it warm from lack of fat.
  • Hyperactivity occurs when the body uses adrenaline for energy when there is no food; the result is hyperactive behavior.

Bulimic Behavior+

Bulimia causes a person to get caught in a vicious cycle of binging on food and then purging to rid their body of the excessive calories. The consequences of this behavior over a long period of time can also be devastating to the body. A variety of health effects may occur from bulimia including:
  • Damage to Throat. This occurs when the stomach acid from repeated self-induced vomiting causes inflammation, and eventually can cause a rupture that can be fatal.
  • Deterioration of Teeth. This happens when repeated exposure to stomach acid wears down the tooth enamel.
  • Constipation. This occurs due to the abuse of laxatives.
  • Kidney or Heart Failure. This is caused by a consistent lack of nutrients.
  • Dehydration. This is due to a depletion of salt and water in the body.

Binge Eating Behavior+

Since people who engage in binge eating behavior do not deny themselves food, the health effects are different than for anorexia and bulimia. The consequences from a binge eating disorder are due to being overweight and not caused by a lack of calories. These effects include:
  • Type II Diabetes generally occurs over time from a diet too high in processed sugar.
  • Heart Disease is caused by a poor diet and when being overweight leads to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.
  • Osteoarthritis happens due to increased weight on the joints of the body.
  • Heart Attack can occur when heart disease progresses.

Where to Find Eating Disorder Treatment

Eating disorder treatment is available through local hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and counselling is provided at other mental health facilities and community centers. Once an eating disorder is suspected, it’s essential to talk to a doctor and find an appropriate place to get help. Eating disorders are not just physical issues, they relate to mental health as well. 50%-70% of eating disorder patients have major depressive disorder,25% have obsessive compulsive disorder and 4% to 13% are bipolar. Without treatment, death can occur due to these mental health issues, by way of suicide. Or, cardiac arrest can take place which is a leading cause of death for those with eating disorders. Here are the appropriate steps to take to find eating disorder treatment once its determined it is required:

  • Speak with a family doctor for evaluation of overall health and a second opinion that an eating disorder is in fact the cause of the changes in behavior of an individual
  • Discuss treatment options including inpatient or outpatient facilities
  • Visit a variety of treatment structures to determine which one is most appropriate for the eating disorder patient.