Information for the public

Looking after your physical health

If you are diagnosed with an eating disorder you should be offered tests to see how it has affected your body.

Tests you might be offered

You might be offered blood tests and a physical examination to see if you are dehydrated. Your doctor will also check the minerals in your blood (like calcium, sodium and potassium). These minerals are called 'electrolytes' and you need to have a healthy balance of these for your body to work normally. An electrolyte imbalance can lead to organ damage if left untreated. You may be prescribed electrolyte supplements to correct this imbalance. If it becomes severe, or if you are very dehydrated, you will need medical care straightaway.

You may also be offered an electrocardiograph (called 'ECG' for short) to check how well your heart is working, because an eating disorder can put a strain on the heart. An ECG is a simple test that involves attaching sensors to your body with stickers, to look at the activity of your heart.

Looking after your teeth

Eating disorders, especially bulimia, can damage your teeth over time. If you make yourself sick regularly, the stomach acid in your vomit gradually wears away the enamel (the top layer) that protects your teeth. To look after your teeth:

  • make sure you see your dentist regularly

  • don't brush your teeth straight after vomiting because this can help to rub away the enamel – instead rinse your mouth with a non-acidic mouthwash

  • avoid highly acidic foods and drinks, such as fruit juices, fizzy drinks and coffee

  • avoid smoking.

Advice about laxatives

People with eating disorders sometimes use laxatives to try and get rid of unwanted calories. Laxatives do not help with weight loss. The calories from your food have already been absorbed before the food reaches your colon (large bowel), where laxatives have their effect. Regularly overusing laxatives can cause symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea and dehydration. Your doctor or other professionals can help you to gradually cut down and stop using them.

Advice about exercise

If exercising too much is making your eating disorder worse, you may be advised to exercise less.

Children and young people

If you have an eating disorder you might not be getting everything you need from your diet to help you grow and develop properly. If your doctor thinks your eating disorder might be causing problems with your growth and development they might refer you to a specialist for advice.