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eating disorders and dehydration

Eating disorders wreak a world of havoc on our bodies. Anorexia nervosa is the most fatal of all mental health issues, with an estimated mortality rate of 10%. This shouldn’t be surprising because many suffering from eating disorders restrict or purge their bodies from essential nutrients. However, the problems with eating disorders go beyond starving the body. An adult female is made up of approximately 55% water, while an adult male is about 60%. On top of that, about 20% of our daily water intake comes from food. It follows that if we restrict or purge our food intake, we also put ourselves in the hole for water intake, making dehydration a dangerous possibility.

Some Signs That You Need More Water

You may have heard the old saying that if you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. However, just because you’re not thirsty doesn’t mean you’re not dehydrated. One way to check if you’re dehydrated is the “skin test.” Skin loses its elasticity when the body is short on water. If you pinch some skin on the back of your hand and it takes more than a second or two to spring back into place, there’s a chance that you need to drink some water.

Another test is to check your urine. It should be a pale yellow. You should be upping your fluid intake if it’s darker than that. Other signs of moderate or mild dehydration are muscle cramps, bad breath, dry skin, and headaches.

The Consequences Are Severe

These symptoms may not seem to be a big problem, but the consequences of dehydration can be severe. Every single cell in your body requires water to function. According to a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, water makes up about 73% of the human heart and brain. Unsurprisingly, heart problems are one of the most common and dangerous issues associated with eating disorders. A heart starved for fuel must work much harder to supply the body with blood, and dehydration exacerbates this problem. Without water, the body can’t regulate its temperature, which puts even greater stress on the heart. Furthermore, the electrolyte imbalances caused by dehydration can cause an irregular heartbeat, leading to failure. Meanwhile, that same electrolyte imbalance can cause seizures in the brain due to severe dehydration, and even mild to moderate cases can cause confusion and lethargy.

Finding the Sweet Spot

The easy answer is to drink more water. However, for those suffering from eating disorders, it can be a little trickier than that. It’s not uncommon for these folks to over-hydrate to curb hunger and restrict food intake. This can lead to the same electrolyte imbalances as dehydration, not to mention water intoxication. Adults, therefore, should shoot for about 6-8 cups of water a day. If you’re working out, you should drink an additional 4 fluid ounces (or a half cup) of water for every 15 minutes spent exercising. Beyond that, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables will help ensure that you’re getting enough water and electrolytes for your body to function properly. You should also avoid or limit drinks with caffeine or alcohol, as these substances are diuretics.

Ocean Recovery Is Here to Help

This post means to inform you of the risks associated with dehydration and give you an idea of the guidelines to hydrate properly. It is not, however, a substitute for medical professionals. If you or someone you care about is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek medical attention as soon as possible. We at Ocean Recovery would love to be a part of your journey to wellness. Reach out to us today to discuss your options and get the help you need.

Ocean Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial policy.

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The internet contains a vast amount of misinformation, but when it comes to your health only peer reviewed, research centered data matters. At Ocean Recovery, all content published throughout our website has been rigorously medically reviewed by a doctorate level clinician, and cross checked for medical accuracy. Our editorial process helps our readers trust that the information they are consuming is factual and based upon scientific data. Your health is our top priority, find out more about how we safeguard the integrity of information on our website. Read More About Our Process

Last medically reviewed August 2, 2022.