Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders

One of the most misunderstood mental disorders of all time is eating disorders (ED). Most people understand ED to be lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious disorders that may be cause death due to severe disturbances in people’s thoughts and emotions and in their food consuming behaviours thereby affecting people’s daily lives . Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders in India were not reported until the late 20th century. A prevalence of 12.5% is noted for eating disorders in India. Binge-eating disorder has the highest prevalence followed by bulimia nervosa (BN) and anorexia nervosa (AN). The range for probable ED was around 4% to 45.4%.

What are the symptoms of Eating disorders?

Depending on the type of disorder, the symptoms are:
Anorexia nervosa (AN): A life-threatening eating disorder, it is the presence of an unhealthy low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight and an unrealistic perception of how the weight and shape of a person should be.

A person with anorexia may:

  • – severely limit calorie intake or cut out certain kinds of foods or food groups.
  • – involve extreme methods to lose weight; such as excessive exercising, using laxatives (medicine that helps pass bowels). This may cause severe health problems, even among those whose weight isn’t extremely low.

Over time, they may develop the following symptoms:

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anaemia
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility

Bulimia nervosa (BN)

Sometimes life-threatening ED, bulimia nervosa (bulimia) is often a serious condition including episodes of bingeing, followed by episodes of purging. Bingeing – eating extremely large amounts of food or food in a short period of time. People are unable to control their eating during this phase and feel that they can’t stop. Post eating, owing to the guilt, shame or an intense fear of weight gain, people take measures to get rid of calories (purging). Purging involves vomiting, exercising too much, not eating for a period of time, or using laxatives. In some cases, changing medicine doses (e.g insulin amounts) is done to try to lose weight. Such people may have following symptoms:

  • Almost always inflamed and sore throat (due to vomiting)
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Tooth decay and increased tooth sensitivity and worn tooth enamel
  • Stomach and Intestinal distress due to acid imbalance and laxative use
  • Severe dehydration from purging of fluids
  • Electrolyte imbalance (imbalance of sodium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals) which may lead to stroke or heart attack

Binge-eating disorder

Here binge-eating is not followed by purging. People often feel a great deal of guilt, disgust or shame post bingeing which may instil a fear to weight gain leading to severely limit eating for long periods of time. This causes an urge to binge resulting in an unhealthy cycle. A new round of bingeing commonly occurs at least once a week.

What are the causes of ED?

Genetics (genes that increase the risk of ED) and biological factors such as changes in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), may play a role in eating disorders.

What are the risk factors of ED?

Anyone can be diagnosed with ED, but young people and teens are more prone. Following factors may increase the risk of developing ED:

  • – Family history of eating disorders
  • – Other mental health disorders or issues such as trauma, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • – Dieting and starvation are proven factors for eating disorders. Starvation results in mood changes, rigid thinking, anxiety and reduced appetite making it difficult ot embrace healthy eating habits
  • – History of weight bullying – people who are made to feel ashamed of their weight by friends, family, colleagues, etc. are more likely
  • – Stress of a new change in life such as starting college, moving to a new place, etc.

Diagnosis of Eating disorder:

Diagnosis is based on symptoms and on learning the eating habits and behaviours. A doctor may conduct a physical exam or lab tests to assess the condition and a mental health expert may conduct an evaluation of mental health by asking questions about a person’s thoughts, feelings, and eating habits.

What are the treatments and therapies of eating disorders?

Early treatment is important for eating disorders as people with ED are more at a higher risk for suicide and medical complications. However, complete recovery is possible with a combination of one or more treatment options as follows:


– Individual, group, and/or family: Involves a family member taking care of the patients diet.
– In another therapy called the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), identification of distorted thinking patterns are identified and modified.


Medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers may be helpful for treating eating disorders and other accompanying illness, if present, such as anxiety or depression.

Medical care and monitoring: A hospital stay may be recommended in case of serious health concerns relating to eating disorders.

What are the lifestyle changes that can be done if diagnosed with ED?

Along with diligently following the treatment plan, following things can be done to improve the chances of success in overcoming an eating disorder:

  • – Find an expert mental health professional specializing in eating disorders
  • – Be regular with therapy sessions and with meal plans.
  • – Continue physical activity and exercise as suggested by the doctor
  • – Ask your doctor about vitamin and mineral supplements to get proper nutrients for the body.
  • – Resist urges to weigh yourself and checking yourself in the mirror often. This may increase anxiety and push you to unhealthy habits.
  • – Don’t isolate from others who care about you, such as your family members and friends.


  1. Eating disorders. November 2023. Mayo Clinic.
  2. Eating Disorders. November 2023. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
  3. Vaidyanathan S, Kuppili PP, Menon V. Eating Disorders: An Overview of Indian Research. Indian J Psychol Med. 2019 Jul-Aug;41(4):311-317.

Select your Location

Please select your nearest location from the list below