Most people associate eating disorders with anorexia nervosa or obesity, but the reality is that there is wide array of eating disorders that affect people from all walks of life. There is no way to tell just by looking at someone whether they have an eating disorder. Many healthy-looking people have unhealthy fixations on food and body image. This often translates into starvation, bingeing, purging, excessive exercise, or a combination of these.
Eating disorders can arise from a number of causes, including the following:
- Harmful social ideals relating to body weight, build and physical appearance
- Fear of regaining weight that has been lost
- Physical, mental or sexual abuse
- Unhappiness at work, home or school
- Frustration resulting from unsuccessful weight loss attempts
As with most conditions, eating disorders vary from person to person. Some common characteristics and symptoms include the following:
- Starvation of the body through severe restriction of calories
- An uncontrollable compulsion to continue losing weight
- Decreased heart rate and blood pressure, eventually leading to heart and brain damage
- Brittleness in the nails and hair, with possible hair loss
- As the condition progresses, the body’s organs begin to shut down, which may result in serious injury or death
- A repeated cycle of eating large amounts of food (bingeing) followed by forcing the body to expel the food (purging)
- Purging is usually done through vomiting, but some people take laxatives and other drugs that cause diarrhea
- Swelling of the face, jaw and neck can result from frequent vomiting
- Other physical symptoms include tooth decay, heartburn, kidney damage and heart disease
- People with bulimia tend to visit the bathroom frequently, especially after meals
- Periods of compulsive eating that continues even when the individual is uncomfortably full
- There is no purging, but the individual may embark on dangerous crash diets
- Binge eating affects people of all body weights
- An obsession with food that leads to spending long periods of time planning meals and researching nutritional content
- An inability to eat food simply for the enjoyment of it
- Following regimented eating habits that cannot be accommodated anywhere but in the individual’s own home
- Distancing oneself from friends and family over differences in eating patterns
- A feeling of control that is lost when the individual strays from their diet
No matter which eating disorder you suffer from, we recognize that you may feel too ashamed to seek help. Many people with these conditions have a difficult relationship with food and their own bodies that makes them feel a deep sense of guilt.
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Food and Fitness www.kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness
Mirror-Mirror, Eating Disorders Shared Awareness Canada www.mirror-mirror.org/eatdis.html
National Women’s Health Information Center