Q. What are eating disorders?
A. Eating disorders are very unhealthy ways of eating that can lead to serious illness and death. Each year, millions of people in the United States suffer from eating disorders. Three of the most common eating disorders are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affect mostly teenage girls and young adult women. Binge eating disorder is found in about 2 percent of the general population — more often in women than men.
In anorexia nervosa, people eat so little food that they can starve themselves to death. In bulimia nervosa, people eat lots of food and then get rid of the food by making themselves vomit or go to the bathroom. They may even take medicine to help get rid of the food. In binge eating, people lose control of themselves when eating. They eat large amounts of food all the time and do not stop eating even after they feel full.
Q. Why do eating disorders affect mostly teenage girls and young women?
A. Teenage girls and young women in our society are constantly exposed to media images and messages that tell them thin is best. This gives young women a distorted view of how they should look and what is healthy. Many young women go on strict diets so that they can look like the girls and women they see on TV, in magazines, and in the movies. Doctors have found that this strict dieting can lead to eating disorders.
Q. What can happen to my health if I have an eating disorder?
A. You can have serious medical and psychological problems.
Anorexia nervosa can lead to:
- death from starvation, your heart stopping, or suicide
- irregular heart beat and heart failure
- drop in your blood pressure and a slowing down of your thyroid function
- swollen joints and less muscle mass
- feeling light-headed
- loss of calcium in your bones that can make them more likely to break
- feeling cold all the time because you don’t have enough body fat to keep warm
- your hair and nails becoming brittle
- your skin drying out and turning yellow
- irregular or no periods
Bulimia nervosa can lead to:
- heart failure
- ruptured stomach
- a wearing down of the outer layer of your teeth from vomiting acid
- scarring on the back of your fingers from pushing them down your throat to make yourself vomit
- swollen cheeks
- irregular or no periods
- loss of interest in sex
Binge eating can lead to medical problems linked to obesity such as:
- heart disease
- gallbladder disease
- some kinds of cancer
- high blood cholesterol
- high blood pressure
People with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders also tend to have psychological problems. They may have serious depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, substance abuse problems, and be at risk for suicide.
Q. How can I get help if I have an eating disorder?
A. Tell someone you trust about your problem. It may be a family member, friend, counselor, religious or community leader, or doctor. See your doctor to get help for your eating disorder and to learn about healthier ways to eat. You can get better.