Eating disorders: characteristics and dangers

Many people think of teen girls when it comes to eating disorders. While it's true that a large percentage…

Eating disorders: characteristics and dangers
Foto: Flickr

Many people think of teen girls when it comes to eating disorders. While it’s true that a large percentage of people with disordered eating habits are young girls, anyone can suffer from the condition, including adult women, teen males, and even grown men. Recovering from an eating disorder is difficult and may require mental and psychological intervention.

Some people don’t recognize an eating disorder as a problem because they don’t know what symptoms and signs to look for. An ongoing eating disorder can cause a wide variety of scary health problems and may sometimes result in death. Proper nutrition is one of the biggest aspects of an eating disorder that must be addressed. Without a healthy and well-balanced diet, the body cannot function the way it should.

Anorexia nervosa

There are several types of eating disorders. Anorexia is the one most people know about. With this condition, a person fears becoming overweight and strictly watches what they eat. Some people begin these eating habits after being complimented on a recent weight loss; others simply see a fat person in the mirror and want a slimmed-down version.

The trouble is that many people who think they are overweight are not, and some are even dangerously thin. People with anorexia typically take in a very small number of calories each day and many only eat certain foods at certain times: for example, a half grapefruit and a cup of coffee, twice per day. Without enough food, the body cannot function. Anorectics often feel dizzy, cold, and sick. Many of the body’s systems start to shut down without adequate nutrients.


Unlike anorexia, bulimia is characterized by gorging on large amounts of food, then purging it by inducing vomiting or using laxatives. People with bulimia often hide their eating disorder more successfully than anorectics. This is because they are often at a normal weight or are slightly overweight. Unless they are caught purging, many bulimics aren’t diagnosed until a doctor notices nutrient deficiencies or a dentist sees enamel issues due to regular vomiting. The health implications of bulimia stem, in part, from the types of foods that are binged on. Many bulimics eat thousands of calories in one sitting from fast food, pizza, and desserts. These foods have little to no nutritional value and aren’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

Binge-eating disorder

A newer and less well-known eating disorder is binge-eating disorder. Like bulimics, sufferers ingest huge amounts of food in one sitting. Unlike bulimics, though, binge eaters don’t purge. Many are overweight or obese. Binge eaters often eat as a way to comfort themselves after a life trauma or an ongoing battle with depression or abuse. As with bulimia, binge eaters usually eat large amounts of unhealthy foods that are high in fat, calories, salt, and sugar, but low in vitamins and minerals. Being overweight carries the additional risk of other health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Treatment for eating disorders is generally a mix of medical and mental health therapies. Sufferers learn to make healthy eating choices and also undergo therapy to help come to terms with the issues that drive an eating disorder. Support groups, nutrient intervention, and behavioral therapy are examples of treatment methods sometimes used with eating disorders. Sufferers also must learning to prepare and eat healthy meals. If you worry that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, seek help right away. The longer the problem persists, the more dangerous and life-threatening it becomes.