Eating Disorders and the Digestive System

Eating Disorders and the Digestive System

If thoughts about food, weight, and appearance are taking up too much of your time, you may have an eating disorder.  Eating disorders have a harmful effect on the body as well as the mind. 

Research has shown that up to 98% of people with an eating disorder suffer with digestive symptoms. 

Behaviors associated with eating disorders include:

  • restrictive eating
  • binge eating
  • purging by vomiting
  • laxative misuse
  • compulsive exercise

The three most common eating disorders are: 

  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • binge eating disorder

How Does Anorexia Nervosa Affects the Digestive System?

  • Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which an individual severely limits the amount of food they consume because they are afraid of gaining weight. 
  • The muscles throughout the digestive system begin to weaken and atrophy leading to a condition called gastroparesis – the process of stomach emptying – become significantly slower or even stops.
  • Gastroparesis causes bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and vomiting.

How Do Binging and Purging Affect the Digestive System?

Binging and purging are an eating disorder in which an individual participates in cyclical eating habits of overeating followed by purging through self-induced vomiting or the use of laxatives.

  • Purging through vomiting causes tearing of the esophagus and muscle weakness of the lower esophageal sphincter. 
  • Muscle weakness leads to trouble swallowing and chronic acid reflux. 
  • Chronic stomach acid erosion of the mouth and esophagus increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Purging with laxatives causes dehydration, kidney failure and overstimulation of the bowel to the point of complete shutdown often requiring dialysis or complete or partial resection of the intestines.

What Is the SCOFF Questionnaire?

The SCOFF questionnaire is a simple, 5 question screening measure to assess the possible presence of an eating disorder. The SCOFF questionnaire utilizes an acronym: Sick, Control, One, Fat, Food.

Answering “yes” to two or more of the following questions indicates a possible eating disorder:

  1. Do you make yourself Sick (induce vomiting) because you feel uncomfortably full?
  2. Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  3. Have you recently lost more than One stone (approximately fifteen pounds) in a 3 month period?
  4. Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  5. Would you say that Food dominates your life?

The good news about digestive disorders associated with an eating disorders is that they are often reversible.

If you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder, speak to your physician about your concerns. You can also reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association for additional support. They provide a toll-free confidential hotline, 800-931-2237, that is staffed daily by trained volunteers who provide information, support, and referrals to treatment. They also offer 24/7 crisis support via text, send ‘NEDA’ to 741741.