Medical Complications from Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in eating behavior. The practice of an eating disorder can be viewed as a survival mechanism. Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol to cope, a person with an eating disorder can use eating, purging or restricting to deal with their problems. Some of the underlying issues that are associated with an eating disorder include low self-esteem, depression, feelings of loss of control, feelings of worthless, identity concerns, family communication problems and an inability to cope with emotions. The practice of an eating disorder may be an expression of something that the individual has found no other way of expressing. Eating disorders are often categorized into one of four conditions: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating. Immediate treatment for an eating disorder is paramount to stopping life-threatening conditions.

Anorexia Nervosa Medical Complications

Anorexia’s main characteristic is the restriction of food and the refusal to maintain a minimal normal body weight. Any actual gain or even perceived gain of weight is met with intense fear by the Anorexic. Not only is there a true feeling of fear, but also once in the grasp of the disorder, Anorexics experience body image distortions. Those areas of the body usually representing maturity or sexuality including the buttocks, hips, thighs and breast are visualized by the Anorexic as being fat. For many Anorexics, weight loss is so severe there is a loss of menses. In the obsessive pursuit of thinness, Anorexics participate in restrictive dieting, compulsive exercise, and laxative and diuretic abuse. If Anorexia Nervosa is left untreated, it can be fatal. Medical complications such as heart failure can develop, which is why extreme suffers of anorexia often end up in an inpatient eating disorder treatment center.

Bulimia Nervosa Medical Complications

Bulimics are caught in the devastating and addictive binge-purge cycle. The Bulimic eats compulsively and then purges through self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, ipecac, strict diets, fasts, chew-spitting, vigorous exercise, or other compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain. Binges usually consist of the consumption of large amounts of food in a short period of time. Binge eating usually occurs in secret. Bulimics, like Anorexics, are also obsessively involved with their body shape and weight. The medical complications of the binge-purge cycle can be severe and, like Anorexia, can be fatal.

Binge Eating Disorder & Compulsive Over-Eating Medical Complications

Men and women with binge-eating disorder suffer incredibly every day. The bottom line is that the human body was never meant to hold that much food. The stomach is the size it is for a reason. Not only is it forced to accommodate so much food, but the entire body — the pancreas, liver and intestines — has to shift into high gear to process all of it. Over time, obesity usually results. The psychological ramifications of binge-eating are also severe. People are often embarrassed and ashamed of their behavior, which leads to a great deal of secrecy and social isolation. Compulsive Overeaters are often caught in the vicious cycle of binge eating and depression. They often use food as a coping mechanism to deal with their feelings. Binge eating temporarily relieves the stress of these feelings, but is unfortunately followed by feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, and depression. Binge eating, like Bulimia, often occurs in secret. It is not uncommon for Compulsive Overeaters to eat normally or restrictively in front of others and then make up for eating less by bingeing in secret. For other Compulsive Overeaters, binges consist of “grazing” on foods all day long. Similar to Anorexics and Bulimics, Compulsive Overeaters are constantly struggling and unhappy with their weight. The number on the scale often determines how they feel about themselves. Medical complications can also be severe and even life threatening for Compulsive Overeaters.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012

Page last updated: August 23, 2012
Published on, Eating Disorders Resource