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Eating Disorders and Suicide

Did you know?

Although medical complications related to malnutrition are the leading cause of death among individuals with eating disorders, suicide is believed to be a close second. Suicidal behavior is elevated in individuals with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, the three eating disorders that have been most studied.

What are eating disorders?

According to the Mayo Clinic, eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact an individual’s health, emotions, and ability to function in important areas of life. Most eating disorders involve focusing too much on weight, body shape and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. They are serious but treatable illnesses that affect people of all ages, genders, races, religions, ethnicities, body shapes, and weights. While the specific cause of eating disorders is unknown, research suggests that a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors contribute to their development.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by weight loss, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight and shape. Individuals with anorexia will excessively limit calories or use other methods to lose weight, such as excessive exercise, using laxatives or diet aids, or vomiting after eating. Studies show that, overall, up to 20% of those with anorexia attempt suicide, and as many as 43% reporting suicidal ideation. Individuals with anorexia are also two to nine times more likely than peers to attempt suicide.

Bulimia Nervosa

Commonly called bulimia, bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Individuals with bulimia have episodes of bingeing and purging that involve feeling a lack of control over their eating. They typically eat a large amount of food in a short time, then try to rid themselves of the extra calories in an unhealthy way. Studies show that 45.2% of people who suffer from bulimia reported experiencing suicidal ideation. People with bulimia are eight to nine times more likely to die from suicide than the general population.

Binge-Eating Disorder

When a person has binge-eating disorder, they regularly eat too much food (binge) and feel a lack of control over their eating. They may eat quickly or eat more food than intended, even when they are not hungry, and may continue eating long after they are uncomfortably full. After a binge, a person may feel guilty, disgusted, or ashamed by their behavior and the amount of food eaten. Current suicidal ideation is estimated to be between 21 and 23% for individuals with BED and they are 5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than peers without BED.

Signs & Symptoms

All Eating Disoders (from the National Eating Disorder Association)

  • Change in attitudes or behaviors related to food or appearance (size, weight, self-perception)
  • Withdrawal from social activities, especially avoiding eating with others
  • Preoccupation with weight loss, food, calories, dieting, and control of food
  • Food rituals such as cutting food into very small pieces or chewing food a long time, eating slowly
  • Obsessing over weight and size, looking for perceived flaws
  • Poor self-image, self-esteem tied to appearance
  • Hoarding and hiding food, eating in secret
  • Excessive exercise
  • Cutting out entire food groups
  • Mood swings, irritability, depression, lack of emotion
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
  • Gastrointestinal distress, constipation, acid reflux

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Extremely restricted eating
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, self-esteem that is influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape
  • Bingeing and purging
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Amenorrhea
  • Osteoporosis

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Worn tooth enamel or decaying teeth
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration
  • Electrolyte Imbalance
  • Evidence of purging such as frequent bathroom trips after meals, signs or smells of vomiting
  • Presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
  • Calluses on the backs of hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting

Binge-Eating Disoder

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time
  • Eating when full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Stealing, hiding, or hoarding food
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating habits
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss


Never be reluctant to get involved and always take any child/adolescent’s desire or intent to harm themselves seriously. For help with eating disorders or suicidal thoughts please get professional help or contact:


For more signs and symptoms visit:

National Community Affiliates
Acadia Health
Lifepoint Behavioral Health
Signature Healthcare Services
National Awareness Affiliates
Attorneys General