Eating Disorders Signs and Symptoms

By Sonya Ervin & Phil Rainer, LCSW

young-people-eating-disordersAlthough eating disorders are most common among female adolescents and young adults, they can affect any age, or gender.  According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime.  There are several different types of eating disorders including, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating disorder, etc. Although each is unique and characterized by different symptoms, they are all associated with extreme emotions, beliefs, and behaviors related to weight and food.

Anorexia Nervosa:

90-95% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa are female, and it is one of the most common mental health diagnoses in young women. Most individuals with this illness fail to recognize the seriousness of the illness. Health consequences include dehydration, muscle loss, overall weakness, abnormally low heart rate and blood pressure resulting in increased risk of heart failure, eventual loss of bone density, and possible kidney damage. Anorexia Nervosa can be life threating.

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Self-esteem issues related to body image
  • Inadequate food intake and an extreme low body weight
  • Extreme fear or anxiety of weight gain or becoming “fat”
  • An obsession with weight, food, calories, and/or dieting
  • Denial of hunger or consistent excuses to avoid meal times or situations involving food
  • Purging (vomiting or laxative use) to further avoid weight loss may be accompanied with Anorexia.

Bulimia Nervosa:

Bulimia Nervosa affects 1-2% of adolescent girls and young women. Although most patients with Bulimia are female, 20% are male. Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa don’t appear extremely underweight, and often appear to be average weight. The constant cycle of binging (overeating)  and purging (vomiting or laxative abuse) causes damage to the digestive system, the esophagus, tooth staining and decay, electrolyte and chemical imbalances that can interfere with the normal function of the heart and other vital organs.

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Binging- Eating excessive amounts of food in relatively short period of time. Signs of this include large amount of food being  missing in relatively short periods of time, or finding large amounts of empty food wrappers and containers
  • Purging behavior such as vomiting or laxative use following binging. Signs include frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, indication of laxative use, such as empty laxative packaging.
  • Feeling out of control
  • A preoccupation or concern with body image, dieting, avoiding weight gain, etc
  • Swelling of the cheeks and jaw line
  • Planning schedule to ensure ability to binge and purge

Diabulimia:

Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes may intentionally withhold or use insufficient insulin dosages in order to control or lose weight. This is being referred to as Diabulimia and can cause severe health complications including high blood sugars and the subsequent consequences of diabetes related conditions such as neuropathy, retinopathy, diabetic ketoacidosis, liver disease, coma, or death. The combination of the medical and mental illness can be fatal and complicated to treat.

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Exhaustion
  • High A1c levels
  • Blood sugar records that don’t match A1c results
  • Fatigue/Exhaustion
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Secrecy about blood sugars or insulin use
  • Preoccupation with body image or weight

Binge Eating Disorder:

Binge eating disorder is often associated with depression, and is more common in men than the other eating disorders. High blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart and/or gallbladder disease are some of the health consequences of Binge eating disorder. It is important to note that not everyone who struggles with Binge eating disorder is overweight, and not everyone who is overweight has this illness.

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Eating generally large amounts of food
  • Feeling out of control
  • Shame or guilt associated with eating habits
  • Eating when not hungry, eating to the point of feeling physical or emotional discomfort, eating in private to avoid shame related to food intake

What can you do?

Role modeling positive attitudes and behaviors around food and body image, adapting a healthy lifestyle, and helping them develop a positive self-image and good self-esteem can help prevent children from developing an eating disorder. However if you believe you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.

Capital EAP Members looking for more information or assistance should contact Capital EAP.

Additional public resources include:

National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
Diabulimia Helpline: 1-425-985 – 3635