One out of 10 Americans suffers from eating disorders. Chances are, you probably know someone with a hidden eating disorder. Eating disorders can be dangerous — even more so as they are hard to spot. Get to know the most common eating disorders in the USA and what signs to look out for.
Anorexia or anorexia nervosa is probably the most well-known eating disorder, having been the subject of multiple documentaries and feature films. An individual suffering from anorexia will severely restrict their calorie intake and maintain a strict exercise regimen to be thinner. The condition can be quite dangerous as months of continued malnutrition can lead to loss of bone density, heart failure, complications in the brain, and even death. Individuals with anorexia will go to great lengths to hide their condition, often layering their clothing to hide their increasingly thinning figure and applying makeup and styling their hair to conceal their face. When eating is unavoidable, they will purge the food from their system by either throwing up or by using laxatives. Treatment for anorexia requires a combination of psychotherapy and actual medical care, especially in extreme cases, usually through a short residency in anorexia nervosa treatment centers.
Like anorexia, bulimia nervosa is another condition associated with losing weight. Bulimia isn’t as noticeable as anorexia, and the weight loss isn’t as drastic. Individuals suffering from the disease will often cycle through stages of fasting and binge-eating with bouts of purging after eating. While vomiting is the most widely known method of purging, some bulimic individuals also use diuretics, laxatives, prolonged fasting, and rigorous exercise. Bulimia is harder to spot than anorexia as bulimic individuals will often maintain healthy body weight and appearance. Bulimia can lead to damaged throats, worn teeth, acid reflux, damage to the esophagus, dehydration, and chemical and hormonal imbalance. In extreme cases, the imbalance in the number of electrolytes in the body can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
Binge eating is probably the most common eating disorder in the USA. It is so common that it went unrecognized as an eating disorder. Unlike the two previous conditions, binge-eaters will not purge or fast, and the condition is associated with weight gain and not weight loss. Binge-eaters will typically consume large amounts of food in response to particular stressors. Binging on food is usually accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame — usually done when alone or with family. Binge-eaters are likely to be overweight and obese, which increases their risk of conditions and diseases associated with excess weight such as, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and an increased risk of strokes. Binge-eaters are less likely to be diagnosed as the condition is often considered normal behavior. Being overweight is considered more reasonable and socially acceptable than being (vastly) underweight, and the condition can remain undiagnosed for years.
Any type of eating disorder can be dangerous when taken to the extreme or after long periods. Make sure to look out for signs among your friends and family and don’t hesitate to reach out and offer help.