South Carolina Department of Mental Health

Eating Disorders: Signs, Symptoms, and How to Help

Are you or someone you know suffering from Anorexia or Bulimia?

It is estimated that eight million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million are women and one million are men. Studies reveal that one in 200 American women suffer from anorexia and two to three in 100 suffer from bulimia. Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder.

Some people try to starve themselves. Others binge and then try to undo this through some form of purging. 

Eating disorders are very serious. They have an impact on both physical and mental health. Left untreated, they can be fatal. People develop eating disorders as a way of dealing with the conflicts, pressures, and stresses of life. Their eating disorder may be used as a way to express control when the rest of their life seems chaotic.

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is self-imposed starvation. It is a serious, life-threatening disorder which usually stems from underlying emotional causes. Although people with anorexia are obsessed with food, they continually deny their hunger. Anorexia can cause severe medical problems and even lead to death.

Warning Signs of Anorexia

People with anorexia may exhibit some – though perhaps not all – of these signs. 

The person:

  • Is thin and keeps getting thinner, losing 15% or more of their ideal body weight
  • Continues to diet or restrict foods even though he/she is not overweight
  • Has a distorted body image – feels fat even when he/she is thin
  • Is preoccupied with food, calories, nutrition or cooking
  • Denies that they are hungry
  • Exercises obsessively
  • Weighs themselves frequently
  • Complains about feeling bloated or nauseated even when they eat normal – or less than normal – quantities of food
  • Loses their hair or begins to experience thinning hair
  • Feels cold even though the temperature is normal
  • Stops menstruating (for females)

What is Bulimia?

Bulimia is the repeated cycle of out-of-control eating followed by some form of purging. Bulimia is a serious eating disorder which can lead to death.

The purging associated with bulimia may be self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, or obsessive exercising. Bulimia can have severe medical consequences including dental and esophageal problems, kidney damage, chemical imbalance, and an overall loss of energy and vitality.

Warning Signs of Bulimia

People with bulimia may exhibit some – though perhaps not all – of these signs. 

The person:

  • Engages in binge eating and cannot voluntarily stop
  • Reacts to emotional stress by overeating
  • Feels guilty or ashamed about eating Is obsessively concerned about weight
  • Attempts to adhere to diets, but generally fails
  • Uses the bathroom frequently after meals
  • Feels out of control
  • Has depressive moods
  • Experiences frequent fluctuations in weight
  • Has menstrual irregularities (for females)
  • Has swollen glands

Seeking Help

If you, or anyone you know, is exhibiting the signs of anorexia or bulimia, it is important to seek professional help from a physician and/or a therapist. A support group may also compliment the treatment received. 

For more information, contact Palmetto Health’s Assessment Office at 803-434-4813.