Eating Disorders: An Overview of the Different Types, Symptoms and Effects
Eating disorders affect over 30 million people across the United States, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. However, the term is vague, and you might find yourself wondering what defines an eating disorder and how the different types are distinguished from each other. Here is a summary of the most common types of eating disorders, their symptoms and their effects.
Anorexia nervosa affects around 1 in 100 women at some point in their lives. People with anorexia severely restrict their food intake and meticulously count calories. As a result, people with anorexia are often dangerously thin. However, body dysmorphia (a distorted view of how you look) means they often believe they are fat.
Symptoms of anorexia include:
- Extremely low weight
- Severely restricted eating
- Distorted body image
- Fear of gaining weight
And it can lead to many side effects, including:
- Brittle or thinning bones
- Low blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Heart damage
- Brain damage
When someone brings up the topic of eating disorders, you might think first of anorexia nervosa, but bulimia nervosa is actually more common, affecting 1.5% of American women at some point in their lives. This condition is characterized by bingeing and purging. Bulimia sufferers will consume large amounts of calorific food in out-of-control episodes, and then either induce vomiting, use laxatives or exercise excessively to purge or counteract the calories consumed. For this reason, people with bulimia often maintain a normal weight.
Other symptoms of bulimia include:
- Distorted body image
- Depression or anxiety
- Obsessive attitude towards food
- Low self-esteem
- Guilt about purges
Effects of bulimia vary depending on the purging method used, but include:
- Continuously inflamed or sore throat
- Sensitive or decayed teeth (from frequent vomiting)
- Severe dehydration
- Intestinal problems (from overuse of laxatives)
- Acid reflux
- Electrolyte imbalance (possibly causing strokes or heart attacks)
Binge Eating Disorder
Almost 3% of American adults have binge-eating disorder at some point in their lives. The differences between this, anorexia and bulimia make “What is an eating disorder?” a challenging question to answer. While notably different from anorexia, binge eating disorder may appear similar to bulimia, but is essentially the “bingeing” part of bulimia without the purging. As a result, the individual often ends up overweight or obese.
- Eating when you aren’t hungry
- Eating to the point of being uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food in a single sitting
- Being embarrassed about your eating, and possibly doing it in secret
The risks of binge eating disorder are excessive weight gain, which can lead to coronary heart disease, diabetes, strokes and some cancers.
Getting Help for Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can affect anyone, and can be very serious, life-threatening conditions. That’s why finding treatment for eating disorders is absolutely essential. If you know anybody with any of the above conditions, don’t delay getting the help you need.
Eating Disorder Statistics – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Eating Disorders – National Institute of Mental Health
Bulimia – Symptoms – NHS Choices
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