Physical Problems Brought On By Eating Disorders

The whole thing had started as a way to improve Christina’s looks. All it had done over the years was wear her body down.

Her hair was thin and lifeless. Her face dry and flaccid. Her eyes, dull and rimmed with red. The skin on her upper arms drooped, robbed of muscle tone. Her body was an odd mix of thin limbs and stubborn stores of fat, seemingly as double-minded about itself as she was.

She was tired all the time; tired of the constant battle with her body. At some point, her body had ceased to be her subservient ally and become an active enemy. She’d stopped purging several years ago, after her teeth got bad from all of the vomiting. Everything was supposed to be fine after she stopped purging.

But the desire to binge continued, even after the purging stopped. She remembered how clever she felt when she decided to go from bingeing and purging to bingeing and starving. The binging fed her craving for sweets and comfort food; the starving fed her craving for self-punishment and deprivation.

The great idea hadn’t delivered, however. When she binged, she felt bloated; when she starved, she felt sucked dry. There was never any happy medium. There was never any happy anything. Trapped in that silent eddy, Christina longed for relief. She wanted her life back. She wanted her health back. She wanted her strength back. She wanted to be happy again.

Christina’s is a common dilemma among those living with eating disorders. Years of abusing the body takes a serious toll – inside and out – even after the bingeing, purging and/or starving has stopped.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, common physical problems brought on by eating disorders include:

GASTROINTESTINAL

External Problems: Constipation, hemorrhoids
Internal Problems: Insufficient material and fluid
Cause: Failure to take in or retain sufficient food and fluid

External Problems: Swelling and puffiness, especially in the ankles and feet
Internal Problems: Electrolyte imbalance, general system problems
Cause: Malnutrition, frequent vomiting, excessive laxative or diuretic use

External Problems: Swelling over stomach or abdominal area
Internal Problems: General system problems
Cause: Long periods of starvation, excessive vomiting, excessive laxative or diuretic use

SALIVARY GLANDS

External Problems: Swelling, pain, tenderness
Internal Problem: Possible infection
Cause: Frequent vomiting

SEXUAL

External Problem: No menstrual period
Internal problem: Inability to produce hormones
Cause: Lack of body fat, rigorous exercise, emotional distress, bingeing and purging

SKIN

External Problems: Dryness, fine rash, pimples
Internal Problem: Dehydration
Cause: Reduced fluid intake, excessive fluid elimination, frequent vomiting, laxative abuse

TEETH

External Problems: Frequent cavities
Internal Problems: Erosion of tooth enamel
Cause: Inadequate diet, frequent vomiting, high intake of carbohydrates/sugars

Fortunately, it is never too late to address the physical problems associated with eating disorders. Seek the help of a professional who knows how to provide “whole-person” care. At The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, I’ve witnessed the miracle of whole-person help, as it not only addresses the physical aspects of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, but also the equally important mental, emotional, relational and spiritual aspects underneath.