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    Eating Disorders Health Center

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    Signs of an Eating Disorder

    Signs of Anorexia Nervosa continued...

    The signs of anorexia can be subtle at first, because it develops gradually. It may begin as an interest in dieting before an event like a school dance or a beach vacation. But as the disorder takes hold, preoccupation with weight intensifies. It creates a vicious cycle: The more weight the person loses, the more that person worries and obsesses about weight.

    The following symptoms and behaviors are common in people with anorexia:

    • Dramatic weight loss
    • Wearing loose, bulky clothes to hide weight loss
    • Preoccupation with food, dieting, counting calories, etc.
    • Refusal to eat certain foods, such as carbs or fats
    • Avoiding mealtimes or eating in front of others
    • Preparing elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat them
    • Exercising excessively
    • Making comments about being “fat”
    • Stopping menstruating
    • Complaining about constipation or stomach pain
    • Denying that extreme thinness is a problem

    Because people with anorexia are so good at hiding it, the disease may become severe before anyone around them notices anything wrong. If you think someone you care about has anorexia, it’s important to have them evaluated by a doctor right away. If left untreated, anorexia can lead to serious complications such as malnutrition and organ failure. However, with treatment, most people with anorexia will gain back the weight they lost, and the physical problems they developed as a result of the anorexia will get better.

    Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

    People with bulimia nervosa have episodes of eating large amounts of food (called bingeing) followed by purging (vomiting or using laxatives), fasting, or exercising excessively to compensate for the overeating.

    Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia are often a normal weight. But they have the same intense fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. They see themselves as “fat” and desperately want to lose weight. Because they often feel ashamed and disgusted with themselves, people with bulimia become very good at hiding the bulimic behaviors.

    The following are common signs of bulimia:

    • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time, or finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
    • Evidence of purging, including trips to the bathroom after meals, sounds or smells of vomiting, or packages of laxatives or diuretics
    • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others, or eating very small portions
    • Exercising excessively
    • Wearing baggy clothes to hide the body
    • Complaining about being “fat”
    • Using gum, mouthwash, or mints excessively
    • Constantly dieting
    • Scarred knuckles from repeatedly inducing vomiting

    If left untreated, bulimia can result in long-term health problems such as abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding from the esophagus due to excessive reflux of stomach acid, dental problems, and kidney problems. However, bulimia can be treated successfully through cognitive-behavioral therapy, certain anticonvulsant medicines, antidepressants, or combinations of these therapies. It’s important to seek help if you think someone you care about has bulimia.

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