Although eating disorders affect people of any age, adolescents are particularly susceptible to them. Body images seen in popular media and peer expectations exert potent influence on young people while they are also experiencing significant physical changes, creating a potent mix of desire, pressure, and confusion. If you then add the presence of family members with eating disorders, family pressures to appear a certain way, emotional imbalances, changes that cause stress (such as moving to a new school or a divorce in the family), or participation in athletics, then the chance of developing an eating disorder really increases. In other words, young people get eating disorders for complex and multiple reasons.
Eating disorders also take different forms. The three primary forms are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Each form has its own symptoms, but they are all serious and can be life-threatening.
A person who suffers from anorexia nervosa tends to be extremely underweight and cannot see it. Furthermore, he or she has some or all of these symptoms:
- Intense fear of weight gain, even when the person is underweight
- Refusal to keep weight at normal level for age and height (15 percent or more under normal weight)
- Distorted body image
- Refusal to admit seriousness of weight loss
- Loss of period (in women)
- Severe limitations on food intake
- Extreme exercise regimens, even when sick or injured
- Blotchy or yellow skin, sometimes covered with fine hair (lanugo)
- Mental confusion
- Dry mouth
- Sensitivity to cold
- Weak bones
- Wasting away of muscle and body fat.
For more information, see PubMedHealth’s article about anorexia nervosa.
Bulimia nervosa describes a condition in which a person binges on high-calorie foods and then experiences a sense of guilt and disgust that is relieved by purging through vomiting, laxatives, or extreme exercise. These episodes can occur several times a day. A person who suffers from bulimia nervosa is often normal weight, which can make this eating disorder hard to spot. Here are some more characteristics of the disorder:
- Exercise compulsively
- Use large quantities of over-the-counter drugs, such as laxatives, diuretics, emetics, and diet pills
- Buy large quantities of food that disappear quickly
- Visit the bathroom after every meal.
- An oral examination may show cavities and gum infections resulting from too much exposure to stomach acid through vomiting.
- Other physical signs of bulimia include broken blood vessels in the eyes (caused by the strain of vomiting), dry mouth, pouch-like swellings at the corner of the mouth resulting from swollen salivary glands, rashes and pimples, and evidence of damage to the tops of fingers from forcing oneself to vomit.
Bulimia is difficult to treat and can cause dangerous long-term complications, including permanent damage to the esophagus. To learn more about bulimia and options for treatment, check out PubMedHealth’s article.
Binge eating differs from bulimia in the lack of purging behaviors. As a result, many people who suffer from binge-eating disorder are overweight or obese. Binge eating appears as episodes of out-of-control eating. These episodes can create strong feelings of guilt or shame in the person who suffers from this disorder, thus leading to more binge-eating episodes. Long-term consequences of binge eating are similar to the long-term consequences of obesity, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
- NationalEatingDisorders.org presents Stories of Hope, in which individuals tell their true stories about having and recovering from eating disorders.
- The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides an online booklet that describes eating disorders, how to treat them, and more.
- KidsHealth.org provides a kids-eye view of eating disorders, including what to do if you suspect a friend has an eating disorder.
- The Mayo Clinic provides a lot of information about eating disorders, including risk factors, complications, how to prepare for an appointment, and more.
These resources are provided for information purposes only and are not intended to replace professional medical, health, or legal advice. Please consult your doctor, mental health professional or lawyer for advice that is specific to your needs. SCC, its officers, directors, volunteers, and attorneys hereby disclaim any responsibility for, or any liability resulting from, the use of these resources.