Eating Disorders: An Overview

Linda Ciotola, M.Ed., CHES (ret.),TEP
Eating disorders result from a complicated interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors. People with eating disorders are intensely preoccupied with food, weight, and appearance, jeopardizing their health and adversely affecting relationships.

Although eating disorders most often affect adolescent females, they can affect children as well as older adults, males as well as females, across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. Some studies show that as many as 20% of eating disorder patients die as a result of their eating disorder.

Physical complications can affect the heart, blood pressure the gastrointestinal system, teeth and gums, as well as the liver and kidney. Amenorrhea and malnutrition increase the risk of osteoporosis. Impaired concentration and thinking result from biochemical imbalances due to malnutrition, anemia, and fluctuating blood sugars. Compulsive over-eaters often suffer from heart disease, adult on-set diabetes, and other obesity-related health consequences.

While patients may layer clothes to hide the body shape underneath, many malnourished patients experience intense sensitivity to cold and/or heat due to a lowered core body temperature. Headaches, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fainting, low energy, and decreased resistance to infection are also symptoms. Eating-disordered athletes may experience frequent orthopedic injuries due to compromised bone health and the effect of malnutrition on muscles and connective tissues.