Know the Signs: Eating Disorders Cause Long Term Damage

By: Cristina Mestre

Did you know that 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point during their lifetime?  Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that can cause long-term physical and emotional damage.

This week marks the National Eating Disorders Association’s NED Awareness Week, an effort to spread knowledge and increase outreach about eating disorders, as well as to reduce stigma and improve access to treatment.

This year’s theme is “everybody knows somebody” with an eating disorder. That might include you.  Read on to learn the signs and symptoms. And be sure to check out UPMC’s Liz McCabe, Ph.D., an eating disorders expert, who will participate in a Twitter chat today at 1 p.m.


  •  Abnormal dieting behaviors or eating patterns
  • Obsessive thoughts and comments about body shape, weight, or food
  • Psychological concerns such as anxiety or depression
Common eating disorders include:
  • Anorexia Nervosa: a refusal or inability to maintain a normal body weight.  This generally means less than 85 percent of ideal body weight or a body mass index (BMI) of 17.5 or less.  It is associated with an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and anorexic individuals often deny the seriousness of their low weight.
  •  Bulimia Nervosa: repeated episodes of binge eating with a sense of loss of control over eating during the episodes.  Bulimia is associated with repeated use of inappropriate behaviors to prevent weight gain or reverse it. These behaviors can include: fasting, self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diet pills, excessive exercise, and occur at least two times/week for at least three months. Self-esteem is also overly influenced by weight or shape.
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED): repeated episodes of binge eating with a sense of loss of control over eating, but no purging, fasting, or excessive exercise. BED can mean eating much faster than normal or until uncomfortably full, eating when not hungry, or eating alone because of embarrassment. Those with BED can feel disgusted, depressed or guilty about eating.  BED is characterized by such episodes at least two days/week for at least six months.
Eating disorders increase the risk of heart failure, kidney failure, ulcers, high blood pressure and other diseases. But the good news is that eating disorders are treatable – and preventable.
If you think you know someone who might have an eating disorder, contact your doctor for a consultation or reference.  In the Pittsburgh area, you can also learn more about the COPE (Center for Overcoming Problem Eating) treatment program and how it can help you, or a loved one, regain control.