What are eating disorders’ effects on the body?

Written by: Angela Derrick, Ph.D. & Susan McClanahan, Ph.D.

Date Posted: January 29, 2022 1:18 am

What are eating disorders’ effects on the body?

What are eating disorders’ effects on the body?

An eating disorder is an abnormal behavior that negatively affects mental and physical health. It is characterized by disturbances to behavior, thoughts, and attitude towards food and eating in general. People who suffer from such disorders usually have an unhealthy preoccupation with their body weight and shape, leading them to either abuse food or push themselves to starvation.

Types of eating disorders include:

Anorexia nervosa

A person restricts food with the fear of gaining weight or over-exercise to manage his fear. They consider themselves overweight even if they are of the average weight. They constantly monitor their weight, avoid specific food types, and constantly compare themselves with others of similar age, weight, and height.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia develops during adolescence and appears less-common in men and women. This involves eating a large amount of food in a specific period. A large sum of food accompanies each meal till they become painfully full. Typical purging behavior includes excessive fasting, vomiting, and excessive exercise, and they develop a fear of gaining weight despite having normal weight.

Binge eating disorder

These individuals do not restrict calorie intake and consume a large amount of food at once. As a result, they lack control despite not feeling hungry.

Restrictive or avoidant food disorder (ARFID)

An individual has reduced or selected food intake due to psychological reasons.

Signs and effects of eating disorders

Many people with an eating disorder tend not to notice or even realize that they have a problem. This may be because they feel ashamed or guilty and want to hide it from their loved ones. In addition, some people with these kinds of disorders tend not to care about it because they think this might be the way to cope. If you feel like you may have developed any signs, it is advisable to visit a psychiatrist to get immediate assistance.

Disclaimer. It is possible to develop these symptoms and not have a food disorder. However, any combination of these symptoms may be present in any eating disorder because no eating disorder is similar to the other.

Here is a list of physical, psychological, and behavioral signs that accompany food eating disorder

Physical warning signs

  • Fainting and dizziness
  • Fatigue and inability to perform various tasks
  • Loss of menstrual cycle in female
  • Sensitivity in both warm and cold environment
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Frequent vomiting.
  • Swollen jawlines and check bones
eating disorders infographic


  • Heart problem. If the body does not get enough calories, it will break down its tissues to provide energy for its physiological needs. When the heart does not get enough energy to pump blood, it stands a high chance of heart failure. This may result in a fatal condition known as bulimia resulting from constant vomiting, which depletes the body of vital vitamins and potassium.
  • Deterioration of teeth and esophagus. Excessive vomiting can wear down a person’s teeth and esophagus due to a high acidity level.
  • Dehydration. A restricting diet puts a person at the risk of causing severe body deficiency. Dehydration occurs when the body is not getting the necessary fluid, leading to fatigue, constipation, and kidney failure.
  • Malnutrition. Malnutrition means the body is not getting the required nutrients, especially protein. Lack of protein may lead to anemia.
  • Slowed brain function. The brain consistently needs the energy to function. It consumes 1/5 of all the calories in the body hence the need for energy supply.
  • Hypothermia. Lack of enough energy causes normal body temperature to drop. This may lead to hypothermia.

Psychological warning signs

  • Negative body dissatisfaction.
  • Constantly having an extreme body image.
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Inability to control oneself around food.
  • Viewing things in either good or bad.
  • Extreme sensitivity to comments around body image compliments, eating and exercising habits.


  • Drug and substance abuse. Eating disorder individuals are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than the general population. Some drugs suppress appetite resulting in poor eating habits and eventually weight loss. These drugs may trick the user into feeling satisfied. They may include khat, alcohol, cocaine, and other substances.
  • High level of depression and anxiety. People battling food disorders may take self-medication to calm down stress and trauma to feel better, which causes repetitive drug abuse and food disorders.
  • Competitiveness
  • Fear of conflict
  • Highly dictated by other people’s opinion
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty in expressing emotions
  • Highly in need to please

Behavioral warning signs

  • Slow eating habits like cutting food into small pieces or slowly with a spoon.
  • Strong focus on perfect body shape. This may involve taking too much interest in dieting tips on books, magazines, and websites to stay thin in shape.
  • Repetitive dieting. Constant dieting on specific food types, avoiding certain food groups, fasting, and replacing food with fluids.
  • Signs of vomiting after a meal
  • Withdrawal from hobbies or social life.
  • Denial of hunger over a long period.

Food disorder is curable. Taking food as frequently as required is the only way to keep going. However, as the saying goes, “food is medicine.” You are 100% likely to recover from an illness from the food you eat and not from the medication you take.