5 Ways Eating Disorders Harm Your Mind and Body
Eating disorders are largely misunderstood by the general population. The term “eating disorder” refers to any of the disorders characterized by eating habits. Disordered eating can include consuming too much or too little on a daily basis. Many people don’t understand that eating disorders are classified as psychological, not physical, and that they are serious afflictions typically requiring professional treatment. Left untreated, eating disorders can harm the mind and body in a number of ways.
How Can an Eating Disorder Hurt Me?
While eating disorders may seem less dire than a substance addiction, there are plenty of negative effects on the mind and body that can occur. Here are five of them:
- Immediate health: All eating disorders can impact a person’s immediate health. Depending on the type of eating disorder a person is experiencing, the health consequences will vary. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia (anorexia nervosa), bulimia (bulimia nervosa) and binge eating disorder (B.E.D.). Let’s look at the immediate health consequences for these disorders:
- Anorexia can affect the immediate health of someone in the following ways:
- Dry skin, nails and hair
- Slow heart rate
- Bulimia can affect the immediate health of someone in the following ways:
- Heart burn or acid reflux
- Muscle soreness
- Irregular, painful bowel movements
- B.E.D. can affect the immediate health of someone in the following ways:
- Weight gain
- Stomach aches or cramps
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Irregular bowel movements
- Long-Term Health. While eating disorders can have an immediate impact on health, it’s even more important to consider the long-term harm they could be doing to the body. Eating disorders can lead to chronic health problems, kidney failure and even death. For the long-term health implications of the most common eating disorders, read below:
- Anorexia can lead to the following long-term health problems:
- Osteoporosis or loss of bone density
- Hair loss
- All-over downy hair on the body, called lanugo, generated for warmth
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Heart failure caused by slow heart rate and low blood pressure
- Kidney failure
- Bulimia can lead to the following long-term health problems:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart failure caused by irregular heartbeat
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Chronic irritable bowel movements or constipation
- Tooth decay or tooth loss
- Rupture of the esophagus
- Binge-eating disorder can lead to the following long-term health problems:
- High blood pressure
- Gallbladder disease
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Social Problems. Many people don’t realize that eating disorders can have implications on social wellbeing, as well. Eating disorders are psychological in nature, so it’s only normal that other areas of life are affected. Because eating, for many, is a regular and enjoyable part of daily routine in life, disordered eating can be difficult to hide.
Think of how many times this month you’ve eaten something in celebrating of a birthday, promotion or life event. We use food for social gatherings, celebrations and comfort. When food is anxiety-provoking and part of disordered eating, all of those occasions can become unmanageable. Someone with an eating disorder may begin withdrawing from social situations in general to avoid the discomfort of hiding their disorder.
- Emotional Health. Eating disorders can have a significant impact on a person’s emotional health. Maintaining the disorder, hiding it from friends and family and continuing to pursue its effects can be a tiresome, exhausting process. Often, individuals with eating disorders can seem distant, irritable and private.
Having an eating disorder is generally related to emotional health in that eating disorders often co-occur with another psychological problem, such as anxiety, depression or abuse. It is common for people suffering from an eating disorder to feel isolated, lonely or depressed. Dealing with the eating disorder is the only way to achieve a greater sense of mental health if you are dealing with any co-occurring disorder.
- Substance Abuse. Many individuals suffering from disordered eating may also be abusing substances. Common substances abused with eating disorders include laxatives, diet pills, stimulants (these can suppress the appetite and fight fatigue) and painkillers.
While some of these co-occurring substances are used to manage symptoms or to help maintain the eating disorders, some are used for other reasons. When an eating disorder is a symptom of an underlying illness, like depression or anxiety, substance abuse can be another symptom of the underlying disorder.
Seeking professional treatment for eating disorders is the best way to achieve long-term recovery. Treatment facilities that specialize in treating co-occurring disorders can be especially helpful in eating disorder treatment. By gaining insight into your mental, physical and emotional well-being, recovery is possible. Contact us to learn about our unique treatment approach.