The Health Risks of Eating Disorders

A place setting with a single piece of lettuce on the plate.
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While it tends to be one of the least discussed topics in food and nutrition, in reality, millions of Americans are impacted by eating disorders. Eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder can affect anyone, no matter their gender, age or socioeconomic status — with serious potential health consequences.

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa

Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa typically do not receive adequate nutrients to sustain proper body functions. Being in a continuous state of physical starvation — even though the person may not even perceive their hunger — can cause lowered heart rate and low blood pressure, which can increase risk of heart failure. Because an individual with anorexia may not be receiving enough vitamins and minerals, they are at risk for osteoporosis, a bone condition in which the bones lose mineral stores and can result in brittle bones, fractures and more easily broken bones. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can lead to kidney failure. Other potential complications include muscle loss, fainting, fatigue, weakness, dry hair and skin, and lanugo, or growth of excess hair growth due to hormonal imbalances.

Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa

While those who suffer from bulimia nervosa may receive enough nutrients, frequent episodes of bingeing and purging can cause severe imbalances within the body. An electrolyte imbalance caused by dehydration from purging can cause irregular heartbeat and even heart failure in extreme circumstances. Other possible results of forced purging include gastric and esophageal ruptures, inflammation caused by stomach acid, ulcers and tooth decay.

Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder

The health risks that accompany binge eating disorder, characterized by uncontrollably consuming large quantities of food in one sitting, are essentially the same risks associated with obesity. Binge eating disorder is different from anorexia and bulimia in that individuals are receiving too many nutrients — as opposed to not enough. These risks include high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high cholesterol, and increased risks for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and gallbladder disease.

The sooner an individual with an eating disorder can receive professional help, the less likely their health will be compromised. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, speak up! It could mean saving a life. Tweet this

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Zachari Breeding
Zach Breeding, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, is a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian nutritionist, professional chef and Clinical Nutrition Manager for The Sage: Nutritious Solutions. He is the author of The Slice Plan: An Integrative Approach to a Healthy Lifestyle and a Better You. Connect with Zach on his website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.