Signs of Disordered Eating

There are three main types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Below are some of the typical behaviors of each type of illness. Don’t forget that an individual may have all or only some of the symptoms in one diagnostic category, or s/he may have a collection of symptoms from more than one category.

Remember: a person’s weight is only one factor in determining if s/he has a problem as 70% of individuals with disordered eating are of average or above-average weight!

Medical

Neurological and Cardiovascular Problems

  • Irregular heartbeats, lowered heart rate and blood pressure (can result in dizziness or fainting)
  • Altered brain function and size
  • Convulsions
  • Death due to heart failure

Digestive Problems

  • Tooth and gum decay
  • Inflammation of throat or esophagus or tears in esophagus
  • Dependence on laxatives 
  • Increased likelihood of bowel tumors
  • Constipation, abdominal pain, or bloating
  • Kidney damage or failure which can lead to death

Skin and Skeletal Condition

  • Permanent scars on knuckles of hand used to induce vomiting
  • Dry mouth, coated tongue, cracked lips; dry skin
  • Edema (water retention)
  • Reduced body temperature and intolerance to cold temperatures; growth of lanugo (downy hair) on body
  • Thinning hair
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle spasms and weakness

Reproductive Problems

  • Irregular menstruation or total loss of menstrual cycle
  • Infertility
  • Decreased sex drive

Psychological / Interpersonal

  • Preoccupation with thoughts about food and eating, but difficulty judging hunger and fullness
  • Mood changes. Nearly 50% of individuals with eating disorders also suffer from irritability, apathy, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or substance abuse. (These may be predisposing factors or consequences of eating disorders.)
  • Impaired concentration or memory    
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Loss of interest or motivation to engage in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleep problems
  • Withdrawal from social relationships; secretiveness 
  • Eating disorder becomes primary way for coping with feelings
  • Increasingly distorted view of self (including body image, skills and abilities, self-worth)

Athletic

  • Initial improved capacity for athletic performance followed by weakness, fatigue, injury, or illness which impairs athletic performance
  • Restrictive eating in combination with excessive exercise leading to intense strain on heart
  • Inability to achieve weight-loss goals (regardless of amount of exercise) due to slowing of metabolic rate from excessive dieting
  • Extreme sensitivity to judgments about body image or weight; may use external evaluations of weight or body image to justify intensely restrictive eating behavior or exercis

Academic

  • Absence from class (due to compulsive exercise or fear of attracting attention and possible judgment from others)
  • Physical fatigue or weakness, or  fainting/blackouts during class, 
  • Difficulty concentrating; impaired memory; decreased examination performance
  • Avoiding others (e.g., group class projects), or seeking help from advisors, instructors, tutors

Nutritional

  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Loss of protein and fat required to absorb nutrients for energy and warmth
  • Loss of other essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, sodium
  • Dehydration followed by rebound fluid retention (i.e., bloating)
  • Slowing of metabolic rate; weight gain or stabilization despite increased dieting or purging