In an effort to “lose weight” or “get healthy,” some people can slip into eating disorders. Eating disorders are distorted eating patterns usually related to underlying emotional issues.
College students are particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders. The numbers affected are hard to assess due to the high number of undiagnosed disorders. Recent estimates are that 10 million Americans battle eating disorders with 40% of new cases being diagnosed in 15-19 year olds. Traditionally, eating disorders have been considered a women's health issue, but 10% of all eating disorders do occur in men (1).
Types of Eating Disorders
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Primary symptoms include:
- Inability to maintain a minimally normal body weight
- Intense fear of weight gain or being fat
- Feeling fat despite weight loss, normal or low body weight
- Loss of menstrual cycle
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a secretive cycle of binging and purging. Primary symptoms include:
- Eating large quantities of food, often secretly, without regard to feelings of hunger or fullness and with feelings of being out of control while eating
- Follows "binges" with some form of purging to make up for calorie intake such as vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, fasting and/or compulsive exercise
Binge eating disorder is a newer category of eating disorder characterized by frequent episodes of uncontrolled overeating not followed by any purging behavior. Primary symptoms include:
- Eating large quantities of food, often secretly, without regard to feelings of hunger or fullness and with feelings of being "out of control" while eating
- Eating rapidly without really tasting the food
- Extreme feelings of shame, disgust or guilt after a binge
Though the warning signs of an eating disorder vary with the type of disorder, here are some red flags that signal a possible eating disorder:
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams and/or dieting
- Extreme concern about body weight or shape
- Inflexible restrictions regarding food
- Frequent comments or anxiety about gaining weight or being fat
- Denial of hunger
- Refusal to eat in front of others or frequent trips to the restroom after eating
- Food rituals such as eating foods in a certain order, excessive chewing or not allowing foods to touch each other
- Excessively rigid exercise program despite weather, fatigue or injury
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Avoidance of food situations
- Food, weight loss and dieting become primary concern that takes priority over all other areas of daily activity
Health consequences of an eating disorder are serious, and in fact, can be life threatening. From changes in blood pressure, heart rates and electrolyte imbalances to dehydration, muscle loss, tooth decay and bone loss, the side effects of an eating disorder can destroy your health for life.
If you or someone you know shows signs of an eating disorder, don't wait until it becomes a serious medical problem, seek help now. Expect to feel nervous, but the sooner you get help from a medical professional, the better your chances are for developing a healthy relationship with food.
1. National Eating Disorders Association, www.edap.org. Accessed July 2011.
This information is not intended to take the place of advice from a healthcare professional. Check with your physician before starting any diet or exercise program. In addition, while all efforts have been made to ensure the information included in this material is correct, new research is released frequently and may invalidate certain pieces of data. 7/11