Top 10 Most Dangerous Eating Disorders
Eating disorders cause people to act in very strange ways that appear confusing to the average onlooker, but these disorders can have life-threatening complications like heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. One of the most visible and well-known eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, but this affliction is just one of several dangerous eating conditions people suffer from today. The social stigma of eating disorders means millions of people suffer from these conditions, but they don’t seek treatment because of the inherent insecurity that often appears alongside an eating disorder like anorexia or binge eating disorder (BED).
Eating disorders run the gamut from those that make people want to skip as many meals as possible, like anorexia nervosa, to others that might have a sufferer hiding in a bathroom, gorging on massive amounts of food, like bulimia nervosa. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), around 10 million men and 20 million women in the United States have suffered from a severe eating disorder at some point in their lives. Complicating issues for the people who suffer from eating disorders is that these conditions sometimes develop with various psychiatric disorders like depression and substance abuse.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are just a few of the eating disorders out there, and it’s not just teenage girls who suffer from these disorders. Children, teens, and adults are susceptible to a plethora of eating disorders. Here’s an eye-opening list of the most harmful eating disorders out there and the deadly complications that can develop with these destructive conditions.
Night Eating Syndrome
As one of the lesser-known eating disorders, night eating syndrome was initially diagnosed in the 1950s by Dr. Albert Stunkard, and it’s also listed in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which is the American Psychiatric Association’s publication that describes the criteria for various mental disorders. According to the Walden Center in Massachusetts, patients diagnosed with this eating disorder have a habit of consuming food at night, but the amount of food isn’t always a significant amount. People who suffer from night eating syndrome may also suffer from being eating disorder (BED), and the two conditions share a lot of potential complications.
Sufferers of night eating syndrome may hide food to eat while they’re alone, they may be at an obese weight, and they may have suffered from a substance abuse problem at one time. Complications related to night-eating syndrome may include high blood pressure, dangerous cholesterol levels, and diabetes. These conditions sometimes develop because people with night eating syndrome are often overweight or obese. The disease is an “equal opportunity” destroyer in that it affects men and women with equal frequency.
Many people diagnosed with night eating syndrome are also diagnosed with depression and various sleep disorders. People may also suffer from anxiety that worsens their harmful behavior of eating at night. One of the fascinating parts of night eating syndrome is that some people may develop the condition after failing to adhere to a diet. Sufferers restrict their calories all day in an effort to lose weight, but they begin eating at night because their hunger drives them to regain those lost calories at night.
Sleep Related Eating Disorder or “Sleepeating”
Like other eating disorders, sleepeating causes its sufferers to eat whether or not they’re actually hungry. People who suffer from this disorder tend to get up in the middle of the night and eat, often to an excessive degree. The unique feature of this particular eating disorder is that patients can’t remember their sleepeating episodes. Some people do remember their sleepeating episodes, but they’re powerless to control their actions. This disorder is a lot like sleepwalking in that waking people from a sleepeating episode is usually quite difficult.
The way people eat during a sleepeating event is normally quite different than how they might eat while awake. Sufferers may eat foods that normally wouldn’t be eaten alone such as spoonfuls of sugar without any accompaniment. The foods people consume while sleepeating are usually high in calories or very sugary, which means the condition can cause weight gain when a person eats normally during the day and then eats even more at night without being able to control their behavior.
The American Sleep Association (ASA) warns that sleepeating can have dangerous consequences because people might eat non-edible items or combine foods that may cause illness. For example, a person may eat items like cigarettes or cleaning solutions, which can prove deadly. Many people who develop sleep-related eating disorder may suffer from another condition that leads to sleepeating behavior such as anorexia. Treating the condition may involve using medications to suppress the behavior, as well as removing potentially dangerous items from the kitchen like harmful bottles of cleaning solution.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID was introduced in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and was created as a label for people whose behavior wouldn’t fall neatly into another category of eating disorder. According to The Center for Eating Disorders, people often start showing signs of the eating disorder when they’re still a child, and those issues may continue well into adulthood. There are a number of incidents that may occur during childhood that can cause a person to develop ARFID. For example, children who cannot get enough calories for a medical reason may develop an eating disorder as they grow older.
The DSM-V lists several criteria for ARFID that appear similar to conditions like anorexia nervosa, but which are more general in nature than anorexia. For example, a person with ARFID may experience significant weight loss. In children, the condition may cause a “failure to thrive” where the child doesn’t gain the expected amount of weight for his or her age, gender, and height. People who suffer from ARFID may also experience nutritional deficiencies, have issues with psychological health, and become dependent upon nutritional supplements to maintain health.
What ARFID is not is a condition that develops because someone doesn’t have enough access to food. Children who don’t have enough to eat because of poverty and who aren’t growing as expected wouldn’t receive an ARFID diagnosis. People who suffer from ARFID might have access to food, but they don’t have an interest in eating or they avoid eating because they don’t like the physical sensation of eating.
Muscle Dysmorphia or “Bigorexia”
A variant of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), muscle dysmorphia is often found in males, but some females can develop the condition, too. A person suffering from this disorder will engage in harmful behaviors because they feel their body isn’t muscular enough no matter how large or small their body appears. People who develop Bigorexia may focus on defects that aren’t really there, or they might obsess about their appearance by examining their body in the mirror for several hours. Sufferers may engage in repetitive behavior and rituals designed to increase the size of their muscles.
Although the condition isn’t solely about food, it does usually influence a person’s eating habits as they struggle to create a maintain an unrealistic physique that may require eating specific foods or even using drugs like steroids. According to the International OCD Foundation, people who develop muscle dysmorphia may develop an incredibly picky diet where their eating habits take up a large portion of their time each day. In an attempt to increase muscle mass as much as possible and decrease body fat, people with Bigorexia may go to extremes with their diets.
Incredibly, people who develop this disorder won’t always show off their bodies with revealing clothing like tank tops and shorts. They’ll often wear baggy clothes because they assume their imperfections are too great and shouldn’t be seen by anyone. Tragically, the condition can destroy relationships because the person will abandon their family and friends in favor of working out and engaging in eating rituals. Although it might seem that someone who wants big muscles has an over-inflated ego, people who develop Bigorexia are usually insecure about their bodies.
Anorexia Athletica or Compulsive Exercising
Health professionals, the media, and teachers are often heard extolling the virtues of exercise, and it’s seen as an ideal component of a healthy lifestyle, but some people who start exercising eventually develop a very unhealthy relationship with it. People who suffer from anorexia athletica will exhibit signs of body dysmorphia and low self-esteem. When someone is stressed or anxious, they may turn to exercise to gain some control over their life. In severe cases, that person may develop anorexia athletica, or an addiction to exercise.
The American Council on Exercise shares that the concept of anorexia athletica was first noticed in the 1970s by a man named Dr. William Glasser. Through his work with runners, he noticed that some athletes developed a compulsive need to exercise and weren’t enjoying running. Since Dr. Glasser’s initial observations, researchers have estimated that somewhere between one and seven percent of exercisers have developed an obligation to exercise that results in excessive exercise every day. People suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa may also develop anorexia athletica in an attempt to bolster weight loss through exercise.
Some people are dedicated to exercising and may participate in activities every day, but everyone who exhibits such behavior isn’t doing so in an unhealthy way. The point at which dedication to exercise turns into something serious occurs when a person feels that they must exercise each day and that injury and fatigue are not excuses for missing a day of exercise. People with anorexia athletica may exercise for hours every single day and increase their risk for permanent injury, digestive problems, and dangerously low blood pressure.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)
One of the most interesting eating disorders that doctors diagnose is Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). Patients who receive this diagnosis may exhibit signs of multiple eating disorders and not fall neatly into a diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia. A report from ABC News shares that up to 70 percent of all eating disorders may fall under a diagnosis of EDNOS, which means the condition could impact the lives of millions of Americans. People who receive a diagnosis of EDNOS may exhibit behaviors from multiple disorders but not display all the behaviors required for a doctor to make a diagnosis of a specific disorder.
This lack of a diagnosis can leave patients in a strange limbo where they don’t feel as though they have a “real” eating disorder and that their behaviors aren’t really disordered. However, people who suffer from EDNOS can suffer just as greatly as individuals diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia. The ABC News report shares further that EDNOS has a mortality rate of 5.2 percent, which exceeds both anorexia and bulimia. Further complicating matters regarding an EDNOS diagnosis is that many patients appear normal, which can hamper efforts to get treatment.
A person with EDNOS may exhibit signs of anorexia nervosa and the extreme restriction of calories while also engaging in bulimia nervosa behaviors like vomiting recently eaten food. People who are diagnosed with EDNOS may require residential treatment in a facility that treats eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Despite the non-specific sound of this eating disorder it is, nevertheless, a serious condition with life-or-death consequences.
The term Orthorexia was coined about twenty years ago by a Dr. Steven Bratman who used the Greek word “orthos,” meaning “right,” to describe people who took healthy eating to such an extreme that it impacted their health and social lives. Although the emphasis on “clean” eating might lead a sufferer to mimic some of the behaviors of anorexia, the conditions are only related. According to Dr. Bratman, people who develop orthorexia sometimes suffer from other issues like OCD.
It seems incredible that anyone could be diagnosed with an eating disorder because of an obsessive desire to eat pure and healthy foods, but some people take orthorexia to such an extreme that they become malnourished to the point of death. Although addiction to food as a part of binge eating disorder (BED) is more common than orthorexia, the overall idea of these diagnoses is that obsession with food consumes the person’s life and makes them withdraw from society to focus on every morsel of food that passes their lips.
The National Eating Disorders Association reveals that orthorexia isn’t actually included in the DSM, but the condition is still recognized as a problem that impacts many people who have taken their fixation with healthy eating to an unhealthy level. People who suffer from orthorexia have incredible willpower that helps them maintain such incredible control over the food they eat. The condition can come out of a person’s motivation to eat healthily, but it may also develop due to problems with self-esteem, a lack of personal identity, and spiritual explorations.
Although it is sometimes featured in movies in a joking manner, bulimia nervosa is definitely not a joke. People who suffer from this condition are classified as “purging bulimia” or “non-purging bulimia” and will either engage in self-induced vomiting, fasting, or excessive exercise to get rid of calories after a high-calorie food binge. Today, it’s common to hear people talk about bingeing in relation to watching excessive hours of television, but when the behavior refers to the intake of an extreme number of calories, things get very dangerous.
People who suffer from bulimia may consume thousands of calories in a single sitting before heading to the bathroom to engage in self-induced vomiting. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many symptoms that may lead to bulimia including a preoccupation with body shape and weight, eating enough to feel pain, and being fearful of weight gain. Bulimia is much more than the cycle of bingeing and purging usually associated with the condition. Its sufferers may also restrict calories between binges, use laxatives, and abuse herbal weight loss products.
The complications associated with bulimia are frightening, but people who engage in bingeing and purging often believe that none of these problems will ever happen to them. Problems that may occur when a person engages in bulimia include kidney failure from severe dehydration, laxative dependence, absent periods in females, digestive problems, and severe tooth decay from the effects of stomach acid. People with bulimia can even develop irregular heartbeats and die from heart failure.
The eating disorder that usually gets the most attention from the media is anorexia nervosa because of the extreme appearance of some people who develop it. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where the sufferer is driven to lose as much weight as possible through restriction of calories. Some of the most visible sufferers of anorexia may weigh less than 100 pounds despite having an average height well above five feet tall. However, every person who suffers from anorexia isn’t outwardly emaciated, nor is every person diagnosed with anorexia a female.
The National Institutes of Health reveals that the behaviors associated with anorexia nervosa may go much further than the restriction of calories. People with anorexia may exhibit behaviors similar to bulimia, such as self-induced vomiting, and they may also exhibit strange eating habits like not wanting to eat in anyone else’s company. Sufferers may also use diet pills to excess, as well as take water pills and diuretics to lose “weight,” even if the weight loss is just the body’s natural water.
The complications associated with anorexia are just as frightening as those that bulimics may develop. An anorexic person may see their white blood cells decrease, which may lead to more frequent sickness. Anorexics are also at risk for malnutrition, tooth decay, thyroid problems, and seizures. One of the most dangerous consequences of anorexic behavior is low potassium in the blood, which can cause heart problems. The obsession many anorexics have with their condition often means long-term treatment in a residential facility is necessary.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Out of all the eating disorders that may cause life-threatening complications and death, binge eating disorder (BED) is the worst one of all because it affects more people than any other eating disorder in the United States. According to the Centers of Disease Control, more than 78.6 million adults and 12.7 million children are obese thus suffering from binge eating disorder. This equates to about 1 out of 3 people.
In contrast, a study published with Biological Psychiatry reveals the rate of anorexia at 0.9 percent in women and 0.3 percent in men. With 308 million people in the United States, that translates to 1.9 million people suffering from anorexia.
It’s common to assume that most people who suffer from eating disorders are thin and starving, but binge eating disorder affects people of many socioeconomic groups, genders, and ages. According to LiveStrong, a binge might equal a few thousand calories eaten in a single sitting, which is what normal eaters may eat over the course of an entire day. A person with BED might stop by McDonald’s for a binge and order a Double Quarter Pounder (780 calories), a large French fries (510 calories), a large Coca-Cola (280 calories), and an M&M McFlurry for dessert (650 calories). That’s 2,220 calories in just a single meal, and the amount of food isn’t even an extraordinary amount for many people in the United States.
People with severe BED might binge even more throughout the day and consume thousands more calories. For example, a person might start the day with a Lumberjack Slam with hash browns and a glass of orange juice at Denny’s (1580 calories), swing by McDonald’s at lunch for that Quarter Pounder meal (2200 calories), and get a sugary sweet mocha latte from Starbucks (450 calories) that afternoon. That evening, he or she might eat half a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut (around 1480 calories) and wash it down with a couple beers (400 calories). That’s around 6,130 calories in one day from popular restaurants where many people eat every single day and more than 1,000 calories from drinks alone! That menu is three times the amount of food a full-grown, 200-pound man needs each day to maintain his 200-pound frame.
For people with BED, feelings of depression and disgust may follow a large binge, which often helps fuel future bingeing activity, even when the person isn’t hungry. While a person suffering from binge eating disorder may appear normal in regular company, his or her habits behind closed doors may lead to several frightening health problems including diabetes, kidney disease, and heart failure. BED can also cause a person to gain weight and become obese. Harvard’s School of Public Health calls obesity an epidemic that isn’t just killing adults, but is harming children, too, with a third of children ages 2 to 19 classified as overweight or obese. Binge eating disorder and obesity are public health crises that demand immediate attention.
Despite the fact that tens of millions of people around the country suffer from eating disorders, there is still a stigma attached to disorders like bulimia and binge eating disorder. Simply talking about eating disorders is difficult, particularly because so many people who suffer from them are young women in their teens who lack self-confidence. Funding, too, is much scarcer for the study of these conditions and their causes versus other issues. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health budget for eating disorders research was $34 million.
That money represents just over a dollar in funding per person who is suffering or has suffered from an eating disorder in the United States. Funding for prostate cancer, on the other hand, was at $254 million in 2014 with the American Cancer Society expecting around 220,800 new cases in 2015. That’s $1,150 spent per expected case of prostate cancer. Funding for maladies like breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes reaches hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but research into eating disorders remains low, comparatively.
Fortunately, there are dedicated psychologists and doctors currently researching eating disorders and developing solutions for the future. However, anyone experiencing any of the disorders described herein should consult with a licensed medical professional and enter into a supervised treatment plan immediately.