Eating Disorder Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of co-occurring eating disorders can be an important first step on the path toward improved health. Sierra by the Sea in Newport Beach, California, is proud to be a source of accurate and relevant information about the impact of co-occurring eating disorders.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Learn about co-occurring eating disorders

Individuals who suffer from eating disorders have chronic issues with behaviors related to eating. Eating disorders often develop in childhood, as this is when an individual forms a healthy or unhealthy relationship with food, eating, and eating-related behaviors.

Two common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Mental processes associated with eating disorders are similar to those associated with addictions. For this reason, many people who are diagnosed with an eating disorder also struggle with addiction.

Individuals who have eating disorders also exhibit compulsions, obsessions, and anxiety related to eating. These symptoms are a typical part of an eating disorder. When these symptoms are severe, they may cause an individual to be diagnosed with an additional mental health condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Statistics about eating disorders

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders are one of the most concerning mental health conditions in the United States.

  • Approximately 30 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • About 13% of women over the age of 50 have an eating disorder.
  • Individuals die more often from eating disorders than any other mental health condition.
  • Anorexia nervosa occurs in 0.9%-2.0% of females, compared to 0.1%-0.3% of males.

Causes & Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

Potential causes of eating disorders

Certain factors related to genetics, environment, and personality may put individuals at an increased risk for developing an eating disorder. Common risk factors related to eating disorders include the following:

  • A childhood history of obsessive behaviors or anxiety
  • Being raised in a culture or having a job that places an emphasis on being thin or underweight
  • A family history of eating disorders

Please note that even if any of the factors listed above apply to an individual, it does not necessarily mean that they will develop an eating disorder.

Signs & Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Symptoms of eating disorders

Individuals who have an eating disorder may exhibit a range of behavioral, physical, and mental symptoms. Someone does not have to display all these symptoms in order to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, but severe cases will involve many of these symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Placing major limitations or restrictions on food
  • Difficulty participating in enjoyable activities due to eating-related behaviors
  • Compulsive behaviors related to eating
  • Concerns or avoidance of eating in public
  • Inability to have conversations that don’t involve eating or eating-related behaviors
  • Self-induced vomiting or fasting after eating

Physical symptoms:

  • Underweight
  • Dental problems
  • Skin problems
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Low bone density
  • Cardiac problems such as irregular heart rhythms
  • Low hormone levels such as estrogen and testosterone
  • Dehydration

Mental symptoms:

  • Having an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight
  • Obsessive thoughts about eating
  • Feelings of disgust, embarrassment, and sadness after acting on obsessive thoughts related to eating

Effects of Eating Disorders

The negative impact of co-occurring eating disorders

An individual who has an eating disorder often sees damaging effects in many aspects of their life. Eating disorders can cause individuals to develop medical conditions that further negatively impact their quality of life and overall health. When paired with an addiction, the functional outcomes of an eating disorder have the potential to adversely impact much of a person’s life. The following are some potential effects of eating disorders:

  • Avoidance of or difficulty participating in social activities due to control over and focus on food
  • Difficulty navigating the home and community due to severely impaired energy levels
  • Malnutrition and other medical complications resulting from vitamin deficiencies
  • Poor relationships due to distorted self-image
  • Underdeveloped physical features if eating disorder began during childhood or adolescence
  • Difficulty maintaining or forming social relationships due to social isolation
  • Failure to fulfill academic or work-related duties

While an eating disorder may be a difficult condition to live with, these outcomes are not guaranteed. If an individual seeks help for a co-occurring eating disorder, they increase their chances of recovery while learning to cope with their symptoms. By receiving effective services to address a co-occurring eating disorder, you are taking the first step toward finding improved quality of life.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who develop eating disorders

Many individuals who have eating disorders also suffer from other mental health conditions that impact their well-being. Individuals who have severe cases of anorexia nervosa may experience depression due to malnutrition. When depressive symptoms are severe enough, they may result in a separate diagnosis of depression. The following are some disorders that commonly co-occur among individuals who suffer from eating disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Addiction
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous