5 Eating Disorders That Can Affect Your Gastrointestinal Health

eating disorders

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. This mental illness is associated with serious medical and psychological complications, including issues with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Depending on which eating disorder an individual suffers from, the possible GI symptoms will vary. 

Eating Disorders And GI Health

Due to the nature of eating disorders, they can negatively affect almost every organ in the body, including the gastrointestinal tract. Possible symptoms associated with eating disorders include esophageal erosion, heartburn, and nausea. At Birmingham Gastroenterology, we want to ensure you’re getting care for diseases and disorders that are negatively affecting your digestive tract. Continue reading to learn how Eating Disorders can affect your gastrointestinal health. 

1. Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that consists of regularly restricting calories and food intake in an attempt to stay very thin. Those with anorexia have a very low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. This eating disorder can have physical symptoms that affect one’s gastrointestinal health, such as stomach cramps, constipation, and acid reflux. Additionally, when the body does not receive enough nutrients, all of its processes are slowed down, resulting in a number of different serious medical consequences. This is called gastroparesis and can lead to bloating, nausea, vomiting, blood sugar fluctuations, blocked intestines, or bacterial infections. 

2. Bulimia Nervosa (BN)

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of bingeing and purging. Purging usually involves self-induced vomiting in order to “undo” the effects of an episode of binge eating. Because bulimia is associated with self-induced vomiting, those diagnosed with bulimia can experience a disruption to their GI tract leading to acid reflux or GERD. In serious cases, forceful vomiting over time can cause tears in the lining of your esophagus, which is what connects the throat and stomach. 

3. Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder affects roughly 2.8 million people in the United States and is characterized by rapidly consuming an excessive amount of food in a single sitting until becoming uncomfortably full. This eating disorder is often associated with a feeling of “losing control” and high levels of guilt. The main difference between BED and bulimia is those with binge eating disorder do not purge. In severe cases of binge eating disorder, the stomach can rupture, creating a life-threatening emergency. 

4. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

One of the less talked about eating disorders is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). ARFRID is similar to anorexia in the way that both disorders are concerned about the amount or the types of foods consumed, yet those with ARFID are not concerned with body shape, size, or the fear of gaining weight. Similarly to anorexia, ARFID causes gastroparesis and its accompanying symptoms. ARFID may also cause constipation due to inadequate nutritional intake. 

5. Orthorexia Nervosa (ON)

Orthorexia is the obsession with eating healthy and is closely associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This may include compulsively checking ingredients and nutrition labels, cutting out certain food groups, and having an unusual interest in what others are consuming. Orthorexia can be present with or without body image concerns. Malnutrition that can come from eating disorders such as orthorexia can cause intestinal obstruction, or pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas.  

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that need to be taken seriously. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there are resources that can help. For more information, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website and hotline here

Here at Birmingham Gastroenterology, we have decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment options or to ask questions about your gastrointestinal health, call us at (205) 271-8000.

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