Eating Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects
Eating disorders are among the most dangerous and difficult to treat of the addiction issues people face. It is easy to see why; food is inescapable. It’s pretty obvious that a $200-a-day heroin habit is problematic, but everybody needs to eat food every day. While nobody needs cocaine, even the most strenuous binge eater will have need of food every few hours, making recovery a daily struggle.
What Are the Types of Eating Disorders?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers a list of three main types of eating disorders. Perhaps the most widely known of these is anorexia nervosa, which is a persistent refusal to eat sufficient food to maintain a healthy weight or function. Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder. It is commonly associated with anorexia, and it is characterized by repeated cycles of binge eating and purging. Overeating is yet another form of an eating disorder, and it’s one that can lead to obesity, with all of the associated health problems.
Anorexia nervosa is classed, as are all eating disorders, as an addiction-type illness, but in many ways it resembles delusional psychosis. Anorexic individuals often see themselves as overweight, regardless of their true physical states. This false belief is used to justify extreme abstinence from food until serious health complications force treatment.
Bulimia nervosa is an especially hazardous condition that is often found alongside anorexia. As with anorexic individuals, bulimics often view themselves as massively overweight. Unlike anorexics, however, victims of bulimia may consume vast quantities of food only to later induce vomiting in an effort to prevent absorption of the food. Many bulimic individuals are of normal weight so others may not suspect they have an eating disorder.
Substance-Induced Eating Disorders
Many drugs can play a role in shaping the eating habits of the people taking them. The loss of appetite associated with certain chemotherapeutic agents is well known. However, this side effect doesn’t meet the technical definition of an eating disorder as it lacks the necessary element of compulsion or psychological dependence.
Certain other drugs have the potential to radically alter the chemistry of the brain and so induce negative emotional states. A good example is depression caused by chronically low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which may manifest as an eating disorder.
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What Causes Mood Imbalances?
Sometimes, as discussed above, the cause of mood imbalances may be as straightforward as a chemical imbalance in the brain. Other cases have no such obvious origins but may be amenable to standard treatment using drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
What Are the Signs of Mood Disorder?
The signs of a mood disorder, sometimes known as affective disorder, according to Ohio State University are:
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness
- A marked loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Difficulty with relationships
- Sleep disturbances
- Decreased energy
- Suicidal ideas or attempts
- Irritability, hostility or aggression
Emotional Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
The emotional symptoms of an eating disorder are as varied as the causes, and they can sometimes have consequences that are as serious as the underlying disorder from which they spring. If you are feeling the effects of what you think may be an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help; call us at as soon as you can.
Physical Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
The physical symptoms of an eating disorder range from severe weight loss to equally severe weight gain. Bad breath and decayed teeth are indicative of bulimia, while a sallow complexion and drawn features are typical indicators of the malnourishment caused by anorexia.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of an Eating Disorder
There are many potential short-term and long-term effects of an eating disorder. Since bingeing, purging and abstaining from food altogether are all patently unnatural acts to engage in routinely, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the human body responds badly to these activities. The short-term effects of an eating disorder can include:
- Rapid weight loss in the case of anorexia
- Rapid weight gain in the case of compulsive overeating
- Dizziness, confusion or other alterations of the subject’s mental state
- Aspiration pneumonia brought on via the accidental inhalation of vomit
Long-term effects of an eating disorder can set in early on and persist until years after the behavior is brought under control. These include:
- All of the many health risks associated with obesity, such as heart disease, hypertension and stroke
- Tooth decay and damage to the esophagus brought about by bulimia
- Rickets, scurvy and other diseases caused by chronic vitamin deficiency
- Depression, either caused or exacerbated by the underlying eating disorder
If you believe you might have an eating disorder, your health may be in jeopardy. Please call without delay for a referral to qualified professionals in your area who can diagnose and treat eating disorders.
Is There a Test or Self-Assessment I Can Do?
If you are concerned about your food intake beyond a level that seems reasonable, this might be a sign that you have developed an unhealthy relationship with food. Given the gravity of the conditions involved, there really is no downside to seeking professional advice on the matter. Since people with addiction-type disorders often have trouble assessing themselves objectively, it is usually considered best to leave the official diagnosis up to an expert medical practitioner who is familiar with such disorders.
Eating Disorder Medication: Urge-Controlling Drug Options and Antidepressants
Antidepressants are often indicated to control the negative emotional impact of eating disorders. Additionally, your physician may prescribe certain urge-controlling agents as part of a comprehensive strategy to limit the effect that eating disorders can have on decision-making abilities.
Anorexia and Bulimia Drugs: Possible Options
According to a pilot study conducted by the American Psychological Association, Prozac show signs of being useful in managing depression associated with eating disorders as well as the disorders themselves.
Medication Side Effects
Any agent prescribed by a doctor — and more than a few drugs that are available over the counter — carries a risk of side effects. These side effects are usually identified before a drug will be approved for clinical use, so it’s a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist about them.
Eating Disorder Drug Addiction
Eating disorders, being primarily addictive behaviors, are, unsurprisingly, correlated with drug or alcohol dependence. This could be because the underlying dysfunction gives rise to both ailments, or it could be that the drug use began as part of an ill-advised attempt to regulate the eating disorder. Some food-related issues arise as a consequence of substance abuse, but these are generally not considered eating disorders as such.
Dependence and Withdrawal
The symptoms of dependence and withdrawal from an eating disorder mirror closely the symptoms of other addictions. According to a paper put out by Indiana University, symptoms of withdrawal will typically include irritability, cravings and general restlessness. It’s rare for withdrawal from an eating disorder to include hallucinations or tremors, as these disorders are primarily behavioral, as opposed to chemical.
The grim subject of a medication overdose is not a trivial matter. Just about any drug, when taken in doses greater than those prescribed by a doctor, has the potential to injure or even kill the person who has overdosed. If you, or another person, think you may be the victim of a drug overdose seek medical attention immediately. If you haven’t taken the medication yet and find that you aren’t sure of the proper dose, be sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before proceeding.
Depression and Eating Disorders
Depression and eating disorders often occur together in the same individual. Sometimes the depression is caused or exacerbated by the negative health and social consequences of the eating disorder. Sometimes the eating disorder is triggered as the result of an attempt by the patient to use abnormal eating habits to essentially self-medicate by way of food intake.
Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and Eating Disorders
Victims of eating disorders often display many of the same traits that have been observed in substance abusers. People with eating disorders often describe their compulsions in language that’s very similar to that used by an addict, and many will persist in their destructive behaviors despite escalating negative consequences for doing so. This is the working definition of an addictive disorder.
It’s no surprise then that many of the patients who report for the treatment of an eating disorder will also need treatment for a chemical dependency or behavior issue such as sexual compulsion or gambling addiction. These secondary issues may be treated in the standard manner with an initial period of detoxification followed by CBT.
Getting Help for an Eating Disorder
If you believe you may have an eating disorder or if you have a friend or family member who might, then it’s important to take action as soon as you can. Many eating disorders can rise to the level of being a life-threatening condition if they’re allowed to go untreated, so there’s no reason to delay. Some insurance providers cover eating disorder treatment. Please call for help getting in touch with resources and programs in your area that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders. The line is always open with a trained professional waiting to answer your questions at any time.