Even if you have never struggled with an eating disorder yourself, it’s likely you know someone who has. Eating disorders can effect both men and women at any age, and include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, to name the most prominent. Categorized as a mental illness, eating disorders occur when one has an unhealthy relationship with food. Though eating disorders can often stem from poor body image and cultural pressures, they can also be the result of an unresolved trauma. A recent estimate stated that 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, with only about 10 percent going on to seek treatment. Despite the widespread information available, eating disorders continue to remain a source of social stigmatization and pop culture glamorization.
So what are the signs and side effects of the three major eating disorders? Anorexia nervosa (commonly shortened to ‘anorexia’) is a cycle of self-starvation, when one denies their body the essential nutrients it needs to function. Extreme weight loss is the most immediately detectable sign, with additional side effects including:
- Slowed heart rate and blood pressure to conserve energy, with the risk of heart failure greatly increased
- Bone density reduction,(also known as osteoporosis), which results in brittle, easily broken bones
- Muscle loss
- Extreme dehydration, with the risk of kidney failure
- Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness of the body
- Hair loss
- Lanugo, a responsive occurrence in which the body grows hair all over, including the face, to stay warm
Research has shown that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, with females between the age of fifteen and twenty-four at the highest risk.
Bulimia refers to the recurring binge-and-purge cycle of consuming regular or oversized meals, followed by induced vomiting and in some cases bowel movements. Bulimia can affect the overall digestive system, with major organ functions impaired by electrolyte and chemical imbalances due to dehydration and loss of potassium. Further side effects include:
- Irregular heart rate and possible failure
- Potential gastric rupturing during binge periods
- Inflammation and potential rupturing of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
- Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids brought up through vomiting
- Laxative abuse related constipation and disruption of regular bowel movements
- Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.
Binge eating refers to the consumption of large amounts of food in a short, abrupt period of time, sometimes even a few minutes. Many of the health risks and side effects of binge eating mirror those of clinical obesity, including:
- Increased weight gain
- High blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Elevated triglyceride levels, which can result in h