Symptoms of Eating Disorders

It is important to recognize the symptoms of eating disorders because, without proper treatment, the effects of eating disorders can be quite serious. In fact, about 20% of those with eating disorders that do not get treatment die from their condition.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders, but the most common are anorexia and bulimia.

An anorexic person restricts food. They do not eat enough to support normal body functioning. Symptoms of anorexia include:

  • Being severely underweight.
  • Refusing to eat in public.
  • Pretending to eat and/or lying about how much they eat
  • Wearing oversize, bulky clothes to cover up thinness; people with low body weights are also often cold, even in warm weather.
  • Excessive exercise.
  • Suffering from a number of physical health problems, described below.

A bulimic person binges (eats a large amount of food in a short period of time) and purges (rids themselves of the food, usually by vomiting). Symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Wide fluctuations in weight.
  • Eating large amounts, often 3000 to 5000 calories at a time, in an hour or less.
  • Frequent vomiting.
  • Preferring to eat in private.
  • Abuse of laxatives and/or diuretics.
  • Excessive exercise.
  • Clear teeth due to erosion of tooth enamel from frequent vomiting.
  • Suffering from a number of health problems, described below.

Effects of Eating Disorders

The effects of eating disorders are far-reaching, and include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Stomach ulcers; binge eating can also cause stomach rupture.
  • Heart problems, such as arrhythmias, weakened heart muscle, and cardiac arrest.
  • Electrolyte imbalances, causing dizziness, fainting, heart problems, and kidney problems.
  • Kidney problems, due to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
  • Loss of muscle mass, causing severe weakness.

Eating disorders can result in permanent physical damage, such as kidney or heart damage, that will not go away even with treatment. Eating disorders can be deadly.


People with eating disorders also often suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s difficult to say whether the depression and anxiety come first and lead to the development of the eating disorder, or if the eating disorder causes depression and anxiety. Most likely, it creates a sort of vicious cycle.

People with eating disorders often withdraw from family and friends. They avoid social situations that involve food (which is a large portion of social functions in our society). They become increasingly secretive, and may become angry or defensive if asked about their eating habits or their weight. Relationships, and thereby support systems, become increasingly strained.

If You Recognize Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Someone You Care About

If you recognize symptoms of eating disorders in someone you care about, you need to take action. Don’t hesitate to bring up the problem. While some people with eating disorders will deny that there is a problem, others will be relieved to have it out in the open.

Treating the Effects of Eating Disorders

The effects of eating disorders require treatment as soon as possible. Without treatment, about 20% of people with eating disorders die from their condition.

The physical symptoms of eating disorders must be addressed before other treatment modalities can be effective. In severe cases, IV fluids may be needed to treat dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Tube feedings may also be required. Medications may be necessary to treat heart and kidney problems. A healthy diet with vitamin/mineral supplements is necessary to correct malnutrition and vitamin/mineral deficiencies.

After treating the medical complications of eating disorders, mental health treatment is necessary to identify the underlying causes of the disorder and to equip the patient with new coping skills. Nutritional counseling and education is also necessary in order to develop and maintain healthy eating habits.


You can follow this link if you want to take a self assessment eating disorder quiz.


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