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Eating Disorders: What You Need to Know

Learn more about the warning signs.

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Anorexia Nervosa

According to Merryl Bear, Director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, eating disorders have a very high mortality rate.The Central Region Eating Disorder Service estimates the mortality rate at 20 percent with a suicide rate that is 32 times higher than that of the general population. Learn more about how you can spot an eating disorder and intervene in time to save your loved one’s life.


Like most eating disorders, anorexia manifests itself in more ways than one. Psychological, emotional and physical changes are likely to occur when someone is suffering. According to Bear, some of the major warning signs of this disease include constant dieting, paying abnormally close attention to calorie intake, avoiding eating meals in public and avoiding social events that may involve food, such as lunches or dinners. Individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa often isolate themselves from their friends and family, as well.

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Bulimia Nervosa

Different from anorexia, bulimia involves eating followed by purging, which can lead to very harmful conditions or death. Warning signs of this eating disorder include excessive exercise (similar to anorexia) and frequent use of laxatives. The individual is also likely to appear malnourished. Signs of bulimia can also be recognized by a dentist because excessive vomiting can lead to erosion of the teeth.

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Much as the name implies, binge-eaters tend to eat compulsively and lack the ability to control themselves. The psychological effects of this disorder include feelings of shame or disgust. Sufferers can demonstrate extreme changes in behaviour. Binge-eaters tend to eat compulsively to manage their emotions.

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According to Bear, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) is a type of disorder that combines all three of the more commonly known disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating. Often, individuals suffer the physical, emotional and psychological effects of this disease longer than patients affected with one of the other types of eating disorders. Sufferers can alternate between symptoms. Ednos can be difficult to spot in someone and the consequences can be more harmful than any of the other disorders, making it especially dangerous.

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How You Can Help

Before attempting to intervene in the life of someone who you believe may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to understand the diseases and how they work. According to The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada 2006, an estimated 240,000 women aged 15-24 suffer from eating disorders every year. While eating disorders affect mostly women, approximately 0.5% of men in Canada also battle with one. Bear suggests speaking with a counsellor in your area by checking with your family doctor, or turning to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre for help.

Individuals suffering from an eating disorder may be very sensitive to comments and may close themselves off more if they feel as though they are being scrutinized. While the majority of those suffering are women, eating disorders can affect both men and women. Individuals may feel very shameful about their appearance or may not be aware they have a problem.

Bear says the statistics are underrepresented since many people live undiagnosed because they keep their illness a secret. It’s important to understand eating disorders are a very deadly illness so you should seek professional help immediately if you believe someone you know may be suffering from one.