Eating disorders can be devastating to individuals as well as families. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food. Eating disorders are most typically about control. We want to be in control of our feelings, of our life and food and weight are often things we can control.

Eating disorders are psychological illnesses defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and mental health. Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are the most common specific forms of eating disorders.

Anorexia signs and symptoms may include:

  • Refusal to eat and denial of hunger
  • An intense fear of gaining weight
  • A negative or distorted self-image
  • Excessive exercise
  • Flat mood or lack of emotion
  • Irritability
  • Fear of eating in public
  • Preoccupation with food
  • Social withdrawal
  • Thin appearance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Soft, downy hair present on the body (lanugo)
  • Menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dry skin
  • Frequently being cold
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration

Bulimia signs and symptoms may include:

  • Eating until the point of discomfort or pain, often with high-fat or sweet foods
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Laxative use
  • Excessive exercise
  • An unhealthy focus on body shape and weight
  • A distorted, excessively negative body image
  • Low self-esteem
  • Going to the bathroom after eating or during meals
  • A feeling that you can’t control your eating behavior
  • Abnormal bowel functioning
  • Damaged teeth and gums
  • Swollen salivary glands in the cheeks
  • Sores in the throat and mouth
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sores, scars or calluses on the knuckles or hands
  • Menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Constant dieting or fasting
  • Possibly, drug or alcohol abuse

Symptoms of binge-eating disorder may include:

  • Eating to the point of discomfort or pain
  • Eating much more food during a binge episode than during a normal meal or snack
  • Eating faster during binge episodes
  • Feeling that one’s eating behavior is out of control
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted or upset over the amount eaten

Eating disorders can kill. Recovery is possible. Treatment often can be done at a lower level of care with therapy and medication. Sometimes a higher level of treatment is necessary first.