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Start talking: Addressing the Physical and Emotional Dangers of Eating Disorders


The chemical imbalances that accompany an eating disorder result in profound psychological and physical changes that can make life very difficult.

Emotional Effects

According to the American Psychological Association, “people with eating disorders suffer higher rates of other mental disorders – including depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse – than other people.” Here are three of the most common psychological effects of eating disorders.

Depression: Eating disorders are often kept secret, which can lead to a person feeling alienated, lost and alone. Furthermore, a person may feel unable to express emotions openly, resulting in isolation from loved ones. Some of the symptoms of depression are sadness, low energy, fatigue, irritability, excessive guilt and hopelessness.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Those who suffer from an eating disorder fixate on food and become obsessed with counting calories, eating and weight. Common OCD symptoms include hiding large amounts of food, weighing several times per day and constantly worrying about foods that should not be eaten.

Anxiety: Everyday life is filled with anxiety and worries, but someone with an eating disorder is likely to have more extreme anxiety symptoms such as persistent worries, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle pain or tension, tremors, insomnia, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat. Many of these symptoms stem from the fear that others will discover their eating disorder, the fear of gaining weight and the guilt of eating.

Physical Effects

Some physical effects of eating disorders, such as wasting, are sometimes more noticeable than the psychological effects. But there are other changes that may not be so obvious. Here are some of the physical effects that occur in those with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder:

Anorexia: Anorexia can upset the normal balance and function of hormones. In women this will result in low levels of estrogen, which can lead to amenorrhea, the absence of menstrual cycles. In men anorexia can cause a decrease in the production of testosterone and can lead to a loss of sexual interest.

The body of the anorexic also lacks the necessary protective layer of fat to stay warm. This will result in the development of lanugo, or fine hair, which will grow all over the body. Another problem of anorexia is a decrease in bone mass caused by the lack of calcium from malnutrition.

At its worst, the body of the anorexic will seek out other means to protect itself and gain energy. In severe cases, the body will seek energy first from muscles and later from the heart, kidneys and brain. This can lead to cardiac arrest and kidney failure, which can result in death.

Bulimia: Repeated self-induced vomiting severely damages the esophagus, causing it to tear and bleed. Stomach acids cause the enamel on the teeth to wear away and can lead to cavities. Salivary glands swell giving some bulimics the appearance of having chipmunk cheeks. Cuts and sores on the knuckles will also appear due to repeatedly sticking one's fingers down the throat to induce vomiting. Other side effects are stomach cramps and difficulty swallowing.

Binge Eating Disorder: Binge eaters may struggle with obesity and accompanying health complications, such as diabetes or heart problems. Other health issues can arise from yo-yo dieting, like high blood pressure and long-term damage to major organs, such as the kidney, heart, liver and other muscles.

Source: American Psychological Association,