Eating Disorders (Symptoms)

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight, a lack of menstruation among girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating behavior. Some people with anorexia lose weight by dieting and exercising excessively; others lose weight by self-induced vomiting, or misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas. More characteristics of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Continual dieting
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if underweight
  • Undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation
  • Preoccupation with food calories or nutrition
  • Preference to eat alone
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Bingeing and purging
  • Brittle hair or nails
  • Depression
  • Infrequent or absent menstrual periods (in females who have reached puberty)
  • Growth of fine hair over body
  • Mild anemia, and muscle weakness and loss
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy

Many people with anorexia also have coexisting psychiatric and physical illnesses, including depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, substance abuse, cardiovascular and neurological complications, and impaired physical development.

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Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food (binge-eating), and feeling a lack of control over the eating. This is followed by some type of behavior that compensates for the binge, such as purging (vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics), fasting and/or excessive exercise. Usually, bulimic behavior is done secretly. Additional symptoms include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • Purging by strict dieting, fasting, vigorous exercise or vomiting
  • Abuse of laxatives or diuretics to lose weight
  • Frequent use of bathroom after meals
  • Reddened fingers
  • Swollen cheeks
  • Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Dental problems, like tooth decay
  • Heartburn or bloating
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Kidney problems from diuretic abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by recurrent binge-eating episodes during which a person feels a loss of control over her eating. Unlike bulimia, binge-eating episodes are not followed by purging, excessive exercise or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Characteristics include:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment caused by how much is eaten
  • Marked distress about the binge-eating behavior
  • Binge-eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months
  • Binge-eating not associated with regular use of compensatory behaviors (purging, fasting, excessive exercise)
Eating Disorders. Last reviewed 10/14/2008

Sources:

  • American Psychiatric Association
  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Eating Disorders Association (2006)