Authored by Revere Health

Hidden Signs of an Eating Disorder

April 1, 2016 | OB/GYNWomen and Children's Center


Do you know that only 5 percent of American females have the body type that advertisers portray as ideal? Or that:

47 percent of girls in 5th to 12th grade expressed a desire to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
81 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

Eating disorders are serious and often life-threatening emotional and physical conditions characterized by extreme attitudes, emotions, and behaviors around weight and food issues. As many as 30 million Americans of all ages and genders struggle with an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The most common manifestations include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. As an eating disorder progresses in severity, it takes a dramatic toll on the body’s systems and may eventually result in organ failure, heart failure, malnutrition that leads to starvation, or suicide.


Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss and is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.

“Even the models we see in magazines wish they could look like their own images.”Cheri K. Erdman, author of “Nothing to Lose”

Between 5 to 20 percent of individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa will die, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Although far more prevalent in females, one in four anorexic children referred to an eating disorders professional is a boy.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia

Reduced food intake leading to a dangerously low weight
Intense fear of weight gain that manifests in an obsession with weight, food types, calories, and dieting
Restrictive and ritualistic behavior involving certain foods
Compulsive and rigid exercise routine to “burn off” calories
Abuse of laxatives, colonics, enemas, diuretics, diet pills, or emetics
Distorted body perception; feeling fat despite the reality
Denial when faced with the severity of the situation
Withdrawal and isolation
Difficulty concentrating or focusing
Depression, shame, and guilt: almost 50 percent of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression

Often a female with anorexia consults her OB/GYN because she has stopped menstruating. The effect on the endocrine system causes thyroid abnormalities, extreme fatigue, intolerance to cold, and thinning hair. Sometimes a layer of fine hair called lanugo develops on the face and body in an attempt to stay warm.


Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of bingeing and purging behaviors designed to undo the effects of overeating. People struggling with this condition often have an average body weight.

“You don’t have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one.”—

Signs and symptoms of bulimia

• Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
• Signs and/or smells of vomiting
• Swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks or jaw area from vomiting; sore throat from vomiting
• Enamel erosion or staining of teeth from the acids in vomit
• Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from inducing vomiting
• Social withdrawal as more of the schedule is devoted to binge-and-purge sessions
• Continued extreme exercise that often causes overuse injuries


Binge eating disorder is experienced as a loss of control around the amount of food consumed. Body weight varies from normal to mild, moderate, or severe obesity, and binge eaters do not regularly use purging or restriction behaviors. Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder

Eating very fast, even if not hungry, and not stopping even if uncomfortably full
Eating alone, eating in secret, hiding, hoarding, or stealing food
Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed, and guilty afterward
Sporadic fasting, extreme restriction, or constant dieting

Many people who suffer with eating disorders hide and deny their conditions. The earlier that help is sought, the greater the chances for physical and emotional recovery.

“No scale can measure how much we are loved or how incredibly precious we are.”—



The obstetricians/gynecologists, nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives, including puberty, child-bearing years, menopause and beyond.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.