Eating Disorders

Individuals relationships with food vary greatly from person to person. Decisions on when and how we feed ourselves are shaped by cultural norms, family influences, tradition, food availability, and one’s emotional state. They are also influenced by personal beliefs and the individuals experience of hunger and fullness.

While some may be content with their relationship with food and their bodies, others may feel exhausted with the manner in which their body image and or relationship with food interferes with their day to day living. Aiding individuals in gaining an understanding of such factors can result in greater self awareness and an overall ease to such distress.

Within the spectrum of people’s relationship with food lie both disordered eating patterns as well as eating disorders. Ones’s likeliness of full recovery increases the earlier the disorder is detected and addressed. Below you will find additional information about regarding signs and symptoms of eating disorders.

Eating disorders experts have found that prompt intensive treatment significantly improves the chances of recovery.  Therefore, it is important to be aware of the warning signs, as listed below.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.


  • Inadequate food intake (restricitive eating, rigid rules regarding feeding oneself).
  • Intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain.
  • Self-esteem related to physical appearance and body image.
  • May include binge eating behaviors and/or purging.

Warning Signs

  • Dramatic weight loss.
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, nutritional content of food, and dieting.
  • Fear of weight gain.
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).
  • Denial of hunger.
  • Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
  • Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.

Health Consequences

Anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation where body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. It can present serious medical consequences including:

  • Decreased and slow heart rate and low blood pressure.
  • Increase risk of heart failure.
  • Reduction of bone density.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration.
  • Kidney Failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Dry hair and skin, hair loss is common.
  • Lanugo: hair growth throughout the body to keep itself warm.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.


  • Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
  • A feeling of being out of control during eating, often during binge-eating episodes.
  • Self-esteem overly related to body image.

Warning Signs

  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth.
  • Creation of lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
  • Continued exercise despite injury; overuse injuries.

Health Consequences

Bulimia nervosa can be extremely harmful to the body. The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles can damage the entire digestive system and purging behaviors can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.  Health consequences include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not using compensatory measures (e.g., purging, over exercise) to counter the binge eating.


  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    *Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
    *A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).

  • The binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    *Eating much more rapidly than normal.
    *Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
    *Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
    *Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
    *Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
    *Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
    *The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
    *The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

Warning Signs:

  • Evidence of binge eating, including the disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of empty wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food.
  • Secretive food behaviors, including eating secretly (e.g., eating alone or in the car, hiding wrappers) and stealing, hiding, or hoarding food.
  • Disruption in normal eating behaviors, including eating throughout the day with no planned mealtimes; skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals; engaging in sporadic fasting or repetitive dieting; and developing food rituals (e.g., eating only a particular food or food group [e.g., condiments], excessive chewing, not allowing foods to touch).
  • Can involve extreme restriction and rigidity with food and periodic dieting and/or fasting.
  • Periods of uncontrolled, impulsive, or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling uncomfortably full, but does not purge.
  • Creating lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge sessions.

Health Consequences

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • Heart disease as a result of elevated triglyceride levels.
  • Type II diabetes mellitus.
  • Gallbladder disease.