Healthy Body. Healthy Mind. Healthy Image.

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This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. According to research, within the United States 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant illness associated with disordered eating such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, at some time in their life. Many cases are likely not reported, in fact, reports suggest that the number of individuals seeking help decreases significantly when they are not aware of the options available to them. Mental Health America of Greater Houston joins health and mental health advocates to help inform people of every age about the signs and symptoms of disordered eating, mental health concerns and where to find help. 

According to wellness advocates, Mental Health America of Greater Houston, "eating disorders are real, treatable illnesses that frequently co-occur with other illnesses such as depression, substance use, or anxiety disorders."

The National Eating Disorders Association concludes:

  • Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
  • Disordered eating commonly occurs with one or more other psychiatric disorders making treatment and recovery more difficult.
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders are 4 times more common among those who suffer from disordered eating.
  • Depression and other mood disorders frequently co-occur among individuals who experience disordered eating.
  • Individuals living with disordered eating concerns are at greater risk for developing obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Warning signs of disordered eating can include:

  • Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or finding wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
  • Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting or presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury, the compulsive need to “burn off” calories taken in.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.

Health consequences of anorexia nervosa can include:

  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoperosis).
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Extremely dry skin.
  • Hair loss.

Health consequences of bulimia can include:

  • 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 can include:

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

Disordered eating is real, complex, and devastating illnesses that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and personal relationships. Mental Health America of Greater Houston suggests that a person living with illnesses associated with disordered eating and a mental health concern will have the best recovery outcome with early diagnosis and treatment by a medical and/or mental health professional.

The road to recovery can be difficult, but surrounding yourself with helpful resources and a supportive community will help make it possible. To find help for yourself or someone you know, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.