The Dangers Of Eating Disorders

14. March 2016

Eating disorders are a form of mental illness that can cause severe health problems and death, if left untreated. Eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating

An eating disorder can happen to anyone, and men and women can both suffer from the disorder. However, women are twice as likely as men to have an eating disorder.

 

Why Do People Get Eating Disorders?

woman with ruler around her waist dieting

There’s no one answer for that. Eating disorders often start with a desire to lose weight. They may start when a person is going through a difficult time, such as a breakup, the death of a loved one, or a trauma. People who have experienced childhood trauma, such as neglect or sexual abuse, or who have a family history of addiction or mental illness may be more likely to develop an eating disorder. Sometimes, the disorder springs from a desire to have control over something. A person who has experienced trauma or is being barraged with a great deal of stressful circumstances may find that food is the one thing that they can exercise control over. People who overeat often use food as a method of self-soothing, and may even gain weight as a form of protection. This can be seen in people who are survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

Many people have experienced times when the eat more for emotional comfort. With binge eating, it escalates. The compulsive act of eating becomes an addiction of sorts. Like addiction to drugs or alcohol, the person becomes obsessed with their “drug”, which is food. And, like addiction, feelings of guilt and shame help to perpetuate the illness.

People with eating disorders are often living a double life. They binge, purge and starve themselves secretly. Anorexia Nervosa is often the most obvious eating disorder, because the dramatic weight loss is easily identified, along with the lack of eating.

For friends and family members, the disorder is baffling. They watch their loved one literally waste away before their eyes, and it can be confusing, frightening and frustrating that they don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation.

The Dangers Of Anorexia

The person with severe anorexia is starving themselves and robbing their body of the nutrients needed to survive. They will severely limit food intake to the bare minimum, and may only eat certain types of food. They do not see their bodies in a realistic way. As the disorder progresses, their distorted view of their body worsens. They will still believe they are overweight, despite been dangerously underweight. They may believe that even loose skin is fat, and will often compulsively exercise while limiting food intake to try and rid themselves of the perceived extra weight.

Symptoms of anorexia can include:

Dry, yellowing skin

Anemia

Muscle wasting

Severe constipation

Low blood pressure

Drop in body temperature

Infertility

Brain damage

Multiple organ failure

Damage to the heart

Bingeing And Purging/Bulimia

This eating disorder may not be obvious for some time. The person who is bulimic may or may not binge, and may or may not be a normal weight. Some people who purge their food may appear to eat normally, and may not display any abnormal weight gain or loss.

Purging is the act of forcing oneself to vomit, or using laxatives to purge food from their body. Again, this often begins as a way to keep from gaining weight, or to aid in weight loss. The person who purges will do so in secret, and the health consequences may not be obvious for some time.

This is a progressive disorder, that gets worse and more dangerous over time. Constantly throwing up food has a number of health consequences, including

 

  • Severe, inflamed sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Chronic, severe gastrointestinal issues
  • Acid reflux
  • Tooth decay, from exposure to stomach acids
  • Electrolyte imbalance and severe dehydration
  • Lack of nutrients
  • Severe psychological distress, isolation

 

Binge Eating/Compulsive Overeating

This disorder is becoming more common. The person who binges will have bouts of uncontrolled eating, and suffers health problems as a result of obesity. High blood pressure, heart problems and mobility issues as a result of weight gain are common. Psychological distress that comes from being overweight, and isolation as a result of keeping their disorder secret exacerbates the problem.

eating disorder woman chained to scale

What Can Be Done About Eating Disorders?

Fortunately, there is treatment for eating disorders, and people do recover. Eating disorders that have escalated can mean a longer road to recovery, as well as the dangers of irreversible physical damage, so it’s important to act quickly, once the problem has been identified.

Individual psychotherapy, group therapy and family therapy can be used to help treat the disorder. In some cases, hospitalization may be required in order to stabilize the person so that they can get healthy and continue treatment. Inpatient treatment centers can also be helpful. Once someone has had an eating disorder, there is always the possibility of a relapse. Relapses can be triggered by stressful events or major life changes. It’s important that friends and family understand the disorder, recognize the signs, and continue to provide support for their loved one.

Eating Disorders And Denial

Denial is a common symptom found in people who have eating disorders. They may not acknowledge that they have a problem, or may minimize or “reason” away the problem. As the disorder progresses, they may become increasingly blind to their condition, and this denial makes it hard for them to accept help. Even when they are able to break through their denial, recovery is still difficult. For the person who has anorexia, eating is terrifying. It’s not easy for someone without an eating disorder to understand the high levels of anxiety that someone with anorexia experiences around food, or how powerful the effects of a distorted body view can be.

For the person who binges and purges, the urge to rid the body of food is compulsive and feels uncontrollable. This is also the case with the compulsive overeater.

How An Intervention Can Help

Eating disorders can be deadly. If you believe your loved one is in danger, a professional intervention provides a solution. A skilled, experienced and compassionate intervention professional can work with your family to facilitate an intervention that will get your loved one the help that they need, and provide much-needed support for the family. Don’t wait for things to get worse, call today at 877-478-4621 to get started.