What to do if you have an eating disorder?
The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that about 10 million American men and 20 million American women will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in his or her lifetimes. Though considered to be serious physical and mental illnesses, eating disorders are, in fact, treatable. While specialists remain unsure what exactly causes eating disorders, they largely speculate that a variety of sociocultural, biological, and psychological factors may contribute to the likelihood that an individual develops one.
What Side Effects Could Come With Eating Disorders?
Eating Disorders could have a myriad of side effects on the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems; they can also affect people on a neurological level.
Some gastrointestinal side effects may include:
- Esophageal or stomach ruptures, which may be life-threatening
- Gastroparesis, or slowed digestion
- The swelling of salivary glands in front of the ears and under the jaw
- Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas
- Intestinal perforation
- Intestinal obstruction
- Infections such as toxocariasis and toxoplasmosis
Cardiovascular side effects could include:
- A reduced resting metabolic rate
- Electrolyte imbalances, which could lead to an irregular heartbeat or even potentially heart failure and death
- A dip in blood pressure and one’s pulse; this could lead to an increased risk of heart failure
Side effects related to the endocrine system may include:
- Irregular or halted menstruation from lowered sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone)
- A dip in thyroid hormones
- Bone loss (osteopenia and osteoporosis) from decreased sex hormones; this could lead to an increased risk of fracture
- High cholesterol, which may not be indicative of the need to restrict lipids, dietary fats, and the like
- A dip in core body temperature that could even lead to hypothermia
- Type 2 diabetes due to insulin resistance
- Lowered resting metabolic rate
Neurological side effects could include:
- Difficulties falling or remaining asleep
- Muscle cramps or even seizures from severe dehydration of electrolyte imbalances
- Dizziness or fainting, particular when someone stands up
- Sleep apnea (a disorder in which a person frequently ceases to breathe while he or she is asleep)
- Obsession over food
- Difficulty concentrating
- Tingling and/or numbness in hands, feet, and other extremities
Other Health Consequences of Eating Disorders
Other potential health-related side effects of eating disorders may include:
- Lowered white blood cell count from malnutrition; white blood cells are responsible for fighting infection in the body
- Kidney failure from prolonged and severe dehydration
- Anemia from individuals not receiving enough iron; symptoms could include weakness, shortness of breath, and fatigue
- The growth of lanugo, or fine, downy hair; a body attempting to conserve warmth during starvation periods may grow this.
- Dry skin
- Brittle hair
- Hair loss
What To Do If You Have an Eating Disorder?
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you have a variety of options and treatment plans to choose from. The National Eating Disorders Association suggests that a great place to start is by approaching a healthcare professional with a series of questions; the answers to these questions can help guide you towards the right treatment path. Such questions could include:
- How are you licensed?
- Are you a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders?
- What is your experience in treating eating disorders?
- How long have you been treating individuals with eating disorders?
- How would you describe your style of treatment?
- When is payment for your services due?
- Which insurance plans do you accept?
- Do you deal directly with the insurance companies, or does the responsibility fall on me?
- Do you offer sliding scale payment options?
- About how long will the treatment process take?
- How will we know if and when it’s time to conclude my treatment?
- How do you involve my family members and/or friends in my recovery process?