Although people suffering from eating disorders can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, most have the following overarching symptoms in common:
An unhealthy relationship with food
A person's relationship with food is unhealthy when eating has become a source of preoccupation, guilt, anxiety, shame, or fear. This dysfunctional relationship may manifest itself with symptoms that include:
An unhealthy relationship with one's body
An individual's relationship with his or body is considered unhealthy when one or more of the following symptoms are present:
Unhealthy ways of regulating weight
Because people with eating disorders often feel very uncomfortable with the act of consuming food, they may engage in potentially dangerous behaviors in an effort to "get rid of" the calories they consume—and thereby diminish feelings of discomfort, guilt, and shame. These unhealthy behaviors can include:
In addition, people suffering from eating disorders may:
The factors that lead to the development of an eating disorder often differ from the factors that make these illnesses challenging to treat. For example, the symptoms of an eating disorder may, over time, help an individual cope with the unique problems in his or her life.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa, for instance, often describe feeling numb or "like a robot" during the worst phase of their starvation—and for some, this numbness seems to be an escape from overwhelming life circumstances (although at great cost).
Some individuals who binge eat say that during a bingeing episode, they focus only on the food and forget about their problems. For these individuals, binge eating seems to provide a temporary escape from life's troubles.
The development and maintenance of disordered eating is complex and non-deliberate, and just as it is not accurate to say that people intend to develop diabetes, it is not accurate to say that individuals consciously develop eating disorders to cope with their problems. Whatever their origin, these symptoms can reach extremes that interfere with sufferers' lives and cause worry to themselves and their loved ones.
In addition to exhibiting the hallmark symptoms common to all eating disorders, people with anorexia nervosa also may:
In addition to displaying symptoms common to all eating disorders, individuals with bulimia may exhibit signs that include:
It is important to realize that the onset of dangerous medical complications is not easy to predict. People can experience a breakdown in bodily functions after suffering from weight-loss-related symptoms for only a short period of time, highlighting the severity of bulimia nervosa.
This unpredictability, combined with tendency toward dehydration and lower levels of physical reserves (fat stores), makes these behaviors particularly dangerous for children and young adolescents. These facts highlight the danger of purgative behaviors—and underscore the message that they are not safe alternative weight-loss strategies.
Last reviewed on 1/28/10
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