Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating — are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. Eating disorders are neither a fad nor a phase that a person goes through. Such a belief minimizes the seriousness of these disorders and discourages their treatment. There are serious health consequences that result from leaving these disorders go untreated,

Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa

In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences:

  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Dry hair and skin, hair loss is common.
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa

The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the health consequences of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
  • Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing.
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
    Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity. Some of the potential health consequences of binge eating disorder include:

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • Heart disease as a result of elevated triglyceride levels.
  • Secondary diabetes.
  • Gallbladder disease.

Know that despite these potential health consequences, effective treatment is available for eating disorders. A mental health professional experienced in the treatment of eating disorders can help a person learn to develop new eating skills that help the person maintain a healthy weight, while also teaching a person how to nurture a healthier body image and relationship to their own body.