Eating disorders have been prevalent among young women for some time. But they can also affect children, older women, and men. Knowing the signs could help you or someone you care about get help before irreparable damage is done.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia is a disorder in which one severely restricts calories, goes without eating for long periods of time, or uses diet pills in an attempt to lose weight. Bulimics eat normally or excessively, then purge by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or exercising compulsively. It is not unusual for someone to suffer from both anorexia and bulimia at the same time.

But not all eating disorders are a form of weight control. Binge eating affects a smaller, but still significant, number of people. Binge eaters consume unusually large amounts of food. They usually try to hide it from others.

Those with eating disorders almost always display signs of their problem. By learning what these signs are, we can recognize them and encourage the sufferer to get the help they need. Here are some things to look for in anorexia and bulimia:

* Sudden weight loss
* Fatigue, dizziness, or fainting
* Dry lips, thinning hair, and brittle nails
* Menstrual abnormalities in women, including loss of menstruation
* Frequent constipation or diarrhea
* Dehydration
* Major changes in eating habits
* Refusal to eat all but a few select foods
* Frequent weighing and complaining about one’s body
* Making trips to the bathroom immediately after each meal

Signs of binge eating include sudden weight gain, attempts to hide food or hide when eating, and eating very quickly. Binge eaters may go on diets, yet remain at the same weight or become heavier due to their secret binges.

The Effects of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are emotional disorders, and they are often accompanied by depression, anxiety, or panic attacks. But they can also have serious physical consequences, some of which can be life threatening. Anorexics are at risk of heart disease or heart failure, anemia, bone loss, lung problems, gastrointestinal problems, and kidney problems. Those who suffer from bulimia are at risk of many of the same problems, and are also susceptible to tooth decay and rupture of the esophagus.

Binge eating can also cause a number of complications. Binge eaters are more likely to become obese, and to develop type 2 diabetes. Other possible complications include sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Eating disorders often go untreated for a long time. If you suspect that someone you care about may have an eating disorder, it is crucial to his or her health that you discuss it with them. Getting help early can reduce the chances of long-term emotional and physical effects, and perhaps even save their life.

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