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Signs of an Eating Disorder

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, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and kidney problems. However, bulimia can be treated successfully through cognitive-behavioral therapy, antidepressants, or both. It’s important to seek help if you think someone you care about has bulimia.

Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Rather than simply eating too much all the time, people with binge eating disorder have frequent episodes where they binge on large quantities of food. Like people with bulimia, they often feel out of control during these episodes and later feel guilt and shame about it. The behavior becomes a vicious cycle, because the more distressed they feel about bingeing, the more they seem to do it. Because people with binge eating disorder do not purge, fast, or exercise after they binge, they are usually overweight or obese.

Unlike other eating disorders, binge eating disorder is almost as common in men as it is in women. According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, the average age at onset for binge eating disorder is 25, and it is more common in people under age 60.  

 

Common signs of binge eating disorder include:

  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time, or finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Hoarding food, or hiding large quantities of food in strange places
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide the body
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others
  • Constantly dieting, but rarely losing weight

Because binge eating leads to obesity, it can have serious health consequences if left untreated. Behavioral weight reduction programs can be helpful both with weight loss and with controlling the urge to binge eat. Because depression often goes hand in hand with binge eating disorder, antidepressants and psychotherapy may also help.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder is the first step toward getting help for it. Eating disorders are treatable, and with the right treatment and support, most people with an eating disorder can learn healthy eating habits and get their lives back on track.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 04, 2013
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