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As an Eating Disorder Specialist I often get asked about the signs and symptoms of Eating Disorders, so I have created this guide: 


Anorexia

Anorexia is characterised by the maintenance of a low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and often of eating itself; this can be accompanied and fuelled by a distorted body image where the sufferer believes themselves to be overweight when they are not. Sufferers of Anorexia usually restrict their calorific intake and may also engage in over-exercising or purging behaviours such as vomiting, over-using laxatives, or taking 'diet pills'.


Signs and Symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pains
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Poor concentration
  • Weakness
  • Skin problems
  • Brittle bones
  • Loss of periods
  • Loss of libido
  • Depression
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Withdrawal from social functioning
  • Secretiveness around food
  • Pre-occupation with food/cooking for others
  • Fine downy hair on body


Bulimia

Bulimia is characterised by recurrent episodes of binging (eating large quantities of food in a short space of time), followed by compensatory behaviours such as vomiting, fasting, laxative abuse, over-exercise and abuse of other medications. Sufferers of bulimia may maintain a normal weight.


Signs and Symptoms


  • Secretiveness around eating
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Pre-occupation with food/cooking
  • Fluctuating weight
  • Feeling out of control
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Tooth damage
  • Cracked lips
  • Swollen salivary glands (puffy face)
  • Sore Throat
  • Poor bowel function
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Russell's sign (bruising or callousing on the knuckle caused by self-induced vomiting)


Bulimia can lead to serious health complications caused by electrolyte imbalances including cardiomyopathy, muscle weakness, fluid imbalance, damage to bowel, kidney damage, fits.



Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder shares many of the symptoms of Bulimia but without the compensatory behaviours. Sufferers are often but not always overweight, depending on the frequency of episodes and the foods that are consumed. Binges or compulsive eating are often used as a way of managing or distracting the sufferer from emotional distress.



Signs and Symptoms


  • Eating large quantities of food in a short space of time
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating despite not being hungry
  • Secretiveness over eating
  • Feelings of disgust, guilt and shame.
  • Social avoidance
  • Depression
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain


Orthorexia

Orthorexia is used to describe sufferers who take their concerns about eating 'healthy' foods to extremes, sufferers often restrict their intake to foods which they consider to be 'pure', 'natural', or 'clean'. As a term it may fall into the category of EDNOS as sufferers may maintain a healthy weight if not a healthy relationship with food or their bodies, whilst for some it is a feature of anorexia.

Attempts to follow extreme diets which may cut out whole food groups can lead to malnourishment, and sufferers can be left feeling guilty and at fault when their nutritionally inadequate diets lead to constant hunger and the resultant cravings for 'forbidden' foods.

Some sufferers of orthorexia may display obsessive compulsive traits, it may be that these are personality traits, however these may be as a result of starvation rather than a cause of the disorder, this kind of thinking can perpetuate the disordered eating and lead it to become an entrenched behaviour.


Signs and symptoms

  • Focus on the virtue of food rather than any pleasure derived from eating it
  • Social isolation
  • Pre-occupation with food and menu planning
  • Feelings of being in control/out of control based on food choices
  • Rigid about 'allowed' foods
  • Rules about the way food is prepared and the utensils used to do so
  • Righteousness over their food choices
  • Guilt and self-loathing when straying from their diet
  • Beliefs that they will be harmed or contaminated by disallowed foods

EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified)

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, or atypical eating disorder is a term used for those with problems around eating which do not fit the diagnostic criteria of Anorexia or Bulimia, i.e. a person who restricts their intake but whose weight is just above the criteria for anorexia or who is still having periods. There are more sufferers diagnosed with EDNOS than with any other eating disorder.


For help with any Eating Disorder click here


Information for Parents and Carers

It's not just the people suffering with an eating disorder that are effected by their eating disorder.

I recognise that people who care for sufferers also need help and support.


If you'd like to read my practical guide for Parents and Carers Click here