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Warning Signs

People with eating disorders usually are preoccupied with weight, food, calories, and dieting.

The following warning signs could indicate that you or someone you love may have an eating disorder:

  • Maintaining an excessive, rigid exercise regimen
  • Withdrawing or avoiding activities once enjoyable
  • Expressing anxiety about being fat
  • Inducing vomiting
  • Using diet aids, diuretics , laxatives, enemas , or vomiting aids excessively
  • Bingeing and purging, with alternate periods of severely restricted dieting and overeating
  • For many women, problems with menstrual cycles and fertility.

Anorexia can often be diagnosed by a person's refusal to maintain a normal weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, or an abnormal perception and preoccupation of body weight or shape.

People with anorexia could experience the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hypotension
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
  • Fainting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Lanugo (downy "peach fuzz" growing on the body).

Persons with bulimia often eat abnormally large portions of food in short bursts. They often feel a sense of shame and lack of control afterward. To compensate for these feelings, they make themselves throw up, misuse laxatives, starve themselves, or exercise excessively. Their feelings of self-worth are often based on their weight and shape.

Bulimia is associated with many of the same dangers found in anorexia, such as:

  • Swelling of the face and neck
  • Tooth decay and erosion (from vomiting)
  • Kidney damage
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis
  • Inflammation and probable rupture of the esophagus
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

In many people, an eating disorder could indicate another psychological problem, including obsessive-compulsive disorder , depression, anxiety, social phobias, substance abuse, borderline personality disorders, and bipolar disorder.

Someone with an eating disorder often has difficulties in other areas of day-to-day living as well. An eating disorder can affect one's ability to perform a job, relate to family and friends, be intimate with a partner, or maintain social contacts.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

People develop eating disorders for a variety of reasons. Some people may feel pressured by society and the media to be thin. Other people may have feelings of low self-esteem or avoid pressing problems, and then establish destructive eating patterns to gain a sense of self-control. For others, there may be an underlying psychological condition. For successful treatment, it's extremely important for the person with an eating disorder to develop a support network of qualified professionals and caring friends and family.