When you become so preoccupied with food and weight issues that you find it harder and harder to focus on other aspects of your life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder. Studies suggest that 1 in 20 people will be affected at some point in their lives. Ultimately without treatment, eating disorders can take over a person’s life and lead to serious, potentially fatal medical complications. Although eating disorders are commonly associated with women, men can develop them as well.
Eating disorders are a group of related conditions that cause serious emotional and physical problems. Each condition involves extreme food and weight issues; however, each has unique symptoms that separate it from the others.
Anorexia Nervosa. A person with anorexia will deny themselves food to the point of self-starvation as she obsesses about weight loss. With anorexia, a person will deny hunger and refuse to eat, practice binge eating and purging behaviors or exercise to the point of exhaustion as she attempts to limit, eliminate or “burn” calories.
The emotional symptoms of anorexia include irritability, social withdrawal, lack of mood or emotion, not able to understand the seriousness of the situation, fear of eating in public and obsessions with food and exercise. Often food rituals are developed or whole categories of food are eliminated from the person’s diet, out of fear of being “fat".
Anorexia can take a heavy physical toll. Very low food intake and inadequate nutrition causes a person to become very thin. The body is forced to slow down to conserve energy causing irregularities or loss of menstruation, constipation and abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythms, low blood pressure, dehydration and trouble sleeping. Some people with anorexia might also use binge eating and purge behaviors, while others only restrict eating.
Bulimia Nervosa. Someone living with bulimia will feel out of control when binging on very large amounts of food during short periods of time, and then desperately try to rid himself of the extra calories using forced vomiting, abusing laxatives or excessive exercise. This becomes a repeating cycle that controls many aspects of the person’s life and has a very negative effect both emotionally and physically. People living with bulimia are usually normal weight or even a bit overweight.
The emotional symptoms of bulimia include low self-esteem overly linked to body image, feelings of being out of control, feeling guilty or shameful about eating and withdrawal from friends and family.
Like anorexia, bulimia will inflict physical damage. The binging and purging can severely harm the parts of the body involved in eating and digesting food, teeth are damaged by frequent vomiting, and acid reflux is common. Excessive purging can cause dehydration that effect the body’s electrolytes and leads to cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure and even death.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED). A person with BED losses control over his eating and eats a very large amount of food in a short period of time. He may also eat large amounts of food even when he isn't hungry or after he is uncomfortably full. This causes him to feel embarrassed, disgusted, depressed or guilty about his behavior. A person with BED, after an episode of binge eating, does not attempt to purge or exercise excessively like someone living with anorexia or bulimia would. A person with binge eating disorder may be normal weight, overweight or obese.