Health Consequences of an Eating Disorder 🤒

Updated: Jul 23


Eating disorders are serious illnesses and there are serious health risks for all types of eating disorders. However, if eating habits, like not eating enough or purging regularly, remain for a long period of time, it can impact your physical and mental health. They can impact every system of the body, literally from your head to your toes.


The earlier you seek help, though, the greater your chances are for physical and emotional recovery. And recovery is possible.


🦴 Hormones (endocrine)

Our hormones impact a lot more than we think. Abnormal eating can seriously disrupt the body’s hormone levels leading to early osteoporosis, periods can disappear or become irregular, our sex drive can drop, and you can even have difficulty getting with sexual function - such as getting aroused, or getting pregnant.


Why? Hormones are made from the fat and cholesterol we eat. With too much or too little of it, our hormones are imbalanced, including our sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone as well as our thyroid hormones.


❤️ Cardiovascular

Your body may be at a greater risk of serious and even life-threatening heart problems if you have an eating disorder and eat less than you need or purge regularly.


Why? When you eat less food than you need, your body starts to break down muscle tissue - including the muscle of the heart. . Your pulse and blood pressure may drop and in time your heart can stop working. When you purge, you lose electrolytes like potassium,, which can cause an irregular heartbeat and can even cause the heart to stop in severe cases.


🧠 Neurological

When you are in a calorie deficit from a diet, eat irregularly or eat too much, numerous neurological consequences can result, including insomnia, nerve problems such as numbness or pain, dizzy, dizziness, or , severe neurological damage resulting in difficulty thinking or moving.


Why? Your brain cells need energy to work, and this energy comes in the form of calories. When the energy is not consistent, it can start to have consequences. Vitamin deficiency also can cause serious brain and nerve damage.

Fun fact: Your brain consumes up to one fifth of your body's calories!


🚧 Gastrointestinal System

Your digestion may be slowed which can cause gastroparesis (slowing down of stomach emptying), stomach pain or constipation. If these problems are longstanding serious long term abdominal pain and gut malfunction can result and these can be very difficult to treat.


Why? Abnormal eating habits interfere with how your stomach empties which causes problems. There may not be enough food to empty your stomach or your intestinal muscles may have weakened or damaged due to malnutrition.


These consequences of eating disorders may sound scary, but knowing them can empower you to know your risks and get the help you need.


🌵Despite misconceptions, eating disorders are common and treatable, especially if tackled early.


For more information check out these resources:

Centre for Clinical Interventions

NEDA


Written By:

Lindsey Depledge

Lindsey is one of the founders of Beanbag Health with a personal passion for eating disorders. She's a behavioral scientist with a background in health-tech and ed-tech in the US. She has designed healthcare and education programs at scale, engaging millions of Americans and thousands of students globally, including many from traditionally underserved backgrounds.

Clinically Reviewed By:

Iain Jordan

Iain is a consultant psychiatrist with postgraduate training in medicine, psychiatry, complexity science, and healthcare informatics. He's fascinated by the relationship between physical health and mental health and has extensive experience with eating disorder patients in inpatient settings. He's an honorary senior clinical lecturer at University of Oxford. His passion is making psychological strategies for recovery available to all.