In Honor of National Eating Disorders Week

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are psychological conditions that cause the development of unhealthy eating habits. Most eating disorders begin with an obsession with an individual’s body shape or weight. Although the disorders do not usually have health implications, severe cases can cause many problems all over your body. People with eating disorders demonstrate various symptoms such as food binges, vomiting, or overexercising (Phillipou et al, 2020). Eating disorders affect both genders at every age although young women are mostly affected.

Common behaviors of eating disorders include restriction of dietary intake, overeating with loss of control, and laxative abuse. The behaviors are usually accompanied by particular thinking patterns such as overvaluation of weight or body image, emotional manifestations such as anxiety and shame, or difficulties in establishing social connections (Phillipou et al, 2020). Most people with eating disorders are not overweight and are at high risk of life-threatening problems such as bone deterioration and suicidality.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders can be caused by various factors such as genetics and social pressure. Social pressure perpetuates personal traits such as perfectionism and neuroticism which increase the risk of developing eating disorders. One of the personal causes of eating disorders includes a cultural preference for thinness and media promotion of such ideals (Phillipou et al, 2020). Cultural acceptance is one of the challenges experienced by young women predisposing them to eating disorders.

Eating disorders often occur in adolescents and young adults.  When left unaddressed, the health condition may continue throughout life and may even get worse. Children and adults tend to display eating disorders in different ways. The conditions are more easily identifiable in children than adults due to adults more easily appearing underweight. Early diagnosis and management are necessary for all age groups to prevent the severity of long-term complications due to malnutrition.

The Types of Eating Disorders

Although there are various types of eating disorders, the common ones are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa develops in adolescence and affects more women than men. People with this type of eating disorder view themselves as overweight even when they are underweight. They monitor their weight by avoiding certain food types while severely restricting the amount of calories they eat. One of the symptoms includes restricted eating patterns, relentless pursuit of thinness, and distorted body image (Hilbert et al., 2017).  People with anorexia often demonstrate obsessive-compulsive disorder, being preoccupied with thoughts about food and obsessively collecting recipes.

Bulimia nervosa develops during young adulthood and causes individuals to eat large amounts of food in short periods of time (“binging”), then attempting to get rid of the food they just ate by vomiting or using laxatives (“purging”). The health condition occurs in episodes with each binge eating episode continuing until an individual is painfully full (Hilbert et al., 2017). During the episode, the individual feels that they have lost control over their body. The binges happen with any type of food and the individual may attempt to compensate for the calories consumed by purging.

Physical Implications

Eating disorders often lead to physical complications and even death. Such complications often result from malnutrition, binge eating, and compensatory behaviors such as vomiting. Short-term complications include negative cardiovascular effects such as low heart rate and low blood pressure, causing symptoms such as dizziness and lightheadedness. Blood disorders are also common and show up as anemia and a high risk of stroke.  Eating disorders can also lower your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.

The effects of eating disorders are widespread across various body systems (Hilbert et al., 2017). Low potassium and sodium from malnutrition may cause an increased risk of bone disorders or heart arrythmias. Such individuals may also experience hypothermia, muscle weakness, lung function compromise, and stunted growth.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, make an appointment to see a provider at the Campus Health Center at 313-577-5041.  CHC now offers telehealth visits, as well as in-person visits. You can also meet with Wayne State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) licensed counselors. Visit CAPS website at for more information.

Comments are closed.