Studies indicate over half of teenage girls and nearly a third of teen boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking, vomiting and taking laxatives. (Fotolia / November 6, 2013)

Source: National Eating Disorders Association

Eating disorders are real, complex and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for a patient's health, productivity and relationships - and even kill.

In the U.S., nearly 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more struggle with binge eating disorder.

Patient s need to seek professional help. For various reasons, many cases are not reported. In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. More than 80 percent of women are reported to be dissatisfied with their appearance (Smolak, 1996).


In anorexia nervosa's cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. The body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in:

1. Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure. The risk for heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.

2. Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.

3. Muscle loss and weakness.

4. Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.

5. Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.

6. Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.

7. Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions, resulting in:

1. Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium,sodium and chloride from the body as a result of purging behaviors.

2. Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing.

3. Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.

4. Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.