eating disorder effects

Why Untreated Eating Disorders Actually Have Substantial True Long-Term Effects

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have significant long-term effects on a person’s physical and mental health. When left untreated, eating disorders can lead to various complications and potentially life-threatening conditions like anemia. 

Eating disorder treatment is effective and includes therapy, education and medication. Even though treatment is available, denial is a common symptom of eating disorders. Therefore, many people end up delaying or refusing help. 

Educating people on the long-term effects of eating disorders can help them understand the importance of seeking help. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, you can start the process by speaking with your primary care doctor or mental health professional, who can give you a referral to a specialist.

Awakenings Treatment Center offers comprehensive care for eating disorders and co-occurring conditions like mental illness or substance use. We have specialized programs for disordered eating behaviors, binge eating, emotional eating, night eating, compulsive overeating, and more. 

Let’s learn more about the long-term effects of untreated eating disorders, and why early intervention is crucial. 

Physical Health Problems

Eating disorders can cause various physical health problems due to an unbalanced diet and lack of nutrients. For example, anorexia nervosa can lead to malnutrition, which can cause weakness, fatigue and muscle wasting. 

Bulimia nervosa can cause electrolyte imbalances, which can lead to heart problems, seizures and kidney damage. Binge eating disorder can lead to obesity, which can cause problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. 

The longer the eating disorder goes on, the more physical damage can occur. Fortunately, recovering from an eating disorder and maintaining a healthy diet and weight can reverse many of these health problems. 

Mental Health Issues 

Mental health problems often accompany eating disorders, such as depression, anxiety, trauma and substance use. Left untreated, these problems can persist long after the eating disorder has been treated, leading to a higher risk of relapse. And if the eating disorder is not treated, it can exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness. 

Dual diagnosis treatment is the best approach for treating an eating disorder and co-occurring mental health condition. Both disorders are treated separately, but simultaneously using therapy, medication, counseling and lifestyle modifications.

Gastrointestinal Discomfort 

Eating disorders are also known for causing gastrointestinal problems like constipation, bloating and acid reflux. In severe cases, they can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding and damage to the esophagus and stomach. 

Not to mention, the body contains trillions of bacteria that are mainly located in the gut. Eating disorders affect bacteria and hormones in the gut, which then lead to various problems, such as lowered immunity, psychological concerns, and appetite dysregulation. 


Another long-term complication of eating disorders is osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become weak and brittle. This can increase the risk of fractures and other bone injuries. Osteoporosis is especially common in people with anorexia nervosa. 

Since individuals with anorexia restrict themselves, they often experience nutritional and hormonal problems that negatively affect bone density. Extremely low body weight in females can even cause the body to stop producing estrogen, which can also lead to significant losses in bone density. 


People are often surprised to learn that eating disorders can also affect reproductive health. As mentioned above, women with eating disorders may stop producing estrogen, which means they can experience irregular menstrual cycles or no menstruation at all. This can cause infertility and other reproductive problems. 

Increased Risk of Suicide 

Individuals with eating disorders have an increased risk of suicide. Left untreated, an eating disorder can cause a person to become so weak – physically, mentally, spiritually – they decide to end their life. Individual group studies have found that up to 60 percent of those with eating disorders engage in suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

It’s clear that untreated eating disorders can have serious long-term effects on physical and mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. With proper treatment, recovery is possible, and the long-term effects of untreated eating disorders can be minimized.