You Can Help Your Loved One
As weve seen, the stereotypical signs of an eating disorder in the general population mostly revolve around a specific trope of what a person with advanced anorexia nervosa might look like. The fact is, eating disorders come in many forms, many shapes, and sizes, and you cant rely on stereotypes to identify an eating disorder. However, if you care about the person you think might have developed disordered eating behaviors, you cant just ignore these signs.
Eating disorders can be very detrimental to a persons health they can affect a persons brain function, energy levels, endocrine system, cause anemia and diabetes, and increase the risk of other mental health disorders and not to belabor the point, but eating disorders also cause more deaths than only other kind of mental health disorder. Thats why its important to be aware of these and other symptoms of eating disorders. If you spot them, you can begin to plan a way to get your family member or friend help.
Signs And Symptoms Of Anorexia
While people with anorexia often exhibit different habits, one constant is that living with anorexia means youre constantly hiding those habits. This can make it hard at first for friends and family to spot the warning signs. When confronted, you might try to explain away your disordered eating and wave away concerns. But as anorexia progresses, people close to you wont be able to deny their instincts that something is wrongand neither should you. If eating and weight control your life, you dont have to wait until your symptoms have progressed or your health is dangerously poor before seeking help.
Put Your Thoughts On The Witness Stand
Once you identify the destructive thoughts patterns that you default to, you can start to challenge them with questions such as:
- Whats the evidence that this thought is true? Not true?
- What would I tell a friend who had this thought?
- Is there another way of looking at the situation or an alternate explanation?
- How might I look at this situation if I didnt have anorexia?
As you cross-examine your negative thoughts, you may be surprised at how quickly they crumble. In the process, youll develop a more balanced perspective.
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Avoidant/restrictive Food Intake Disorder
ARFID is when someone avoids certain foods, limits how much they eat or does both.
Beliefs about weight or body shape are not reasons why people develop ARFID.
Possible reasons for ARFID include:
- negative feelings over the smell, taste or texture of certain foods
- a response to a past experience with food that was upsetting, for example, choking or being sick after eating something
- not feeling hungry or just a lack of interest in eating
Hidden Signs Of An Eating Disorder
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The earlier an eating disorder is detected and treated, the better the chances for a successful recovery. To mark National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’re highlighting hidden signs of eating disorders to encourage you or a loved one to seek help sooner.
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The Psychological Physiological Effects Of Atypical Anorexia
As mentioned, the effects of atypical anorexia are similar to what happens from “typical” anorexia nervosa. According to a 2015 study in the Journal of Eating Disorders, the physiological symptoms can include, but are not limited to, cardiovascular impairments, dermatologic issues, along with hematologic, gastrointestinal, ophthalmic, and can even have lasting neural effects. In other words, atypical anorexia does not discriminate, affecting every inch of the body.
Eating disordersatypical anorexia includedhave the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Ashley Solomon, Psy.D., the executive clinical director at Eating Recovery Center in Ohio, tells mbg that there are a host of cardiac rhythm disturbances that are directly caused by weight loss of any capacity and malnutrition. “These are undoubtedly causal in the heightened risk for sudden death seen in people with anorexia nervosa,” she writes. “Despite these very serious cardiac concerns, many people with eating disorders are reluctant to get help. The disorders themselves are marked by a brain-based type of denial that can make even seeing that there’s a problem very difficult. As a clinician, I find that sometimes the presence of these heart issues can help someone see just how high the risk to their health really is.”
These side effects include, but aren’t limited to, lowered self-esteem, social withdrawal, decreased sex drive, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Tip : Learn To Tolerate Your Feelings
Identifying the underlying issues that drive your eating disorder is the first step toward recovery, but insight alone is not enough. Lets say, for example, that following restrictive food rules makes you feel safe and powerful. When you take that coping mechanism away, you will be confronted with the feelings of fear and helplessness your anorexia helped you avoid.
Reconnecting with your feelings can be extremely uncomfortable. Its why you may feel worse at the beginning of your recovery. But the answer isnt to return to the destructive eating habits you previously used to distract yourself its to learn how to accept and tolerate all of your feelingseven the negative ones.
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Other Specified Feeding And Eating Disorder
If you get an OSFED diagnosis, you have an eating disorder. However, you don’t meet all the criteria for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
This doesn’t mean that your eating disorder is less serious.
OSFED just means that your disorder doesn’t fit into current diagnoses. Getting a diagnosis of OSFED can help you access treatment and support.
You can experience any feelings, actions or body changes linked to other eating disorders.
Previously, OSFED was known as âeating disorder not otherwise specifiedâ .
For more details, see Beat’s information about OSFED.
“I was assessed by my local eating disorder service and was given a diagnosis of EDNOS. I managed to get my eating back on track. I continue to work on the feelings with the help of my therapist and am very much in recovery.”
Theyre Often Uncomfortable Or Distracted During Meals
This symptom is common in almost every form of eating disorder. Over time, eating disorders interfere with the way a person eats at regular meals with family and friends. Often, the person with an eating disorder is publicly on a diet and feels pressure not to eat very much when around other people. This is very common in both bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, both of which feature regular private binge eating episodes as part of their diagnostic criteria. This discomfort might show up in the form of food rituals, such as cutting off certain parts of food and refusing to eat them , or refusing to eat different foods if they touch on the plate.
With eating disorders like ARFID , the cause of the food rituals and extremely picky eating is different. Instead of being a response to distorted body image and a need for control over some aspect of their lives, people with ARFID compulsively avoid certain foods and even entire food groups. Their fear foods might be avoided because the individual is worried about choking, getting food poisoning, or vomiting rather than because they fear gaining weight or losing control over their eating patterns. People with ARFID might be extremely uncomfortable at meals, especially if one of their feared foods is present.
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What Is Binge Eating Disorder
Lots of us find comfort in food. And most people will sometimes eat much more than they normally do on special occasions.
But someone with binge eating disorder has a different relationship with food. They feel like they’ve lost all control over how much they eat, and they can’t stop, even when uncomfortably full. They also binge at least once a week for several months.
For people with binge eating disorder, food may offer feelings of calm or comfort, or stop them from feeling upset. But after a binge, it can have the opposite effect, causing anxiety, guilt, and distress. Many people who binge eat are overweight. But those at a healthy weight can also have a binge eating disorder.
What Is Atypical Anorexia
“Atypical anorexia is a new diagnosis, and the incidence and prevalence has not been studied,” Dr. Bermudez tells me. “It has occurred for a long time but not in the numbers that we are seeing nowthus its mention and inclusion in the DSM-5.”
According to Dr. Bermudez, there are many similarities between “standard” anorexia and atypical anorexia, including the desire to lose weight, fear of weight gain, and difficulties with negative body image. What makes it “atypical,” though, is that people who struggle with it maintain a “normal” weight appearance, whether that be overweight or thin without extreme emaciation. So people with atypical anorexia often fly under the radar without receiving treatment, all the while getting sicker and sicker.
Beginning The Recovery Process
Choosing to recover from an eating disorder can be confusing, terrifying, and seemingly unattainable. As someone who does consider herself recovered, I know that despite the exceptional difficulty, the courageous decision is possible and worthwhile.
Neeru Bakshi, M.D., FAPA, a board-certified psychiatrist and the medical director for Eating Recovery Center in Washington, tells mbg that what’s often hard for people to understandfamily and friends, but even the person who themselves is sufferingis that having an eating disorder is not a choice. According to Dr. Bakshi, people can be predisposed to inheriting an eating disorder, but sociological factors can also play a role, such as traumatic events, significant life changes, or diets. The choice is whether or not to seek and accept treatment.
Part of that choice, for atypical anorexia patients, is to accept that they are indeed “sick enough” despite their weight or BMI not necessarily conforming to a falsified stereotype.
Getting Help For Someone Else
It can be difficult to know what to do if you’re worried that someone has an eating disorder.
They may not realise they have an eating disorder. They may also deny it, or be secretive and defensive about their eating or weight.
Let them know you’re worried about them and encourage them to see a GP. You could offer to go along with them.
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Shame Leads To Secrecy
Jessica Dowling, an eating disorder therapist in St. Louis, Missouri, says that eating disorders develop primarily in the teen years, with the peak age range between 12 and 25. But she believes the numbers are underreported, due to the shame associated with being honest about eating disorder behavior.
Because, like me, a lot of kids hide.
And then theres the societal acceptance, and even praise, of striving to be thin.
Some eating disorder behavior, like restriction and over-exercising, is praised in our society, which leads many adults to assume that a teen doesnt have an eating disorder, Dowling explained.
When it comes to how teens might work to cover up their eating disorder behavior, she said that some may claim to have eaten at a friends house when they havent eaten at all, or they may hide food in their bedroom or car to binge on later. Others may wait for their parents to leave the house so they can binge and purge without fear of getting caught.
These are extremely secretive disorders because of the shame associated with bingeing, purging, and restricting, Dowling explained. No one with an eating disorder actually wants to live this way, and they have to hide what they are doing so as to not increase their feelings of shame and regret.
New Ways To Find Emotional Fulfillment
Once you understand the link between your emotions and your disordered eating patternsand can identify your triggersyou still need to find alternatives to dieting that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment. For example:
If youre depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, schedule time with family or friends, watch a comedy show, or play with a dog or cat.
If youre anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite music, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk or bike ride.
If youre exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, go for a walk, take a bath, or light some scented candles.
If youre bored, read a good book, explore the outdoors, visit a museum, or turn to a hobby you enjoy .
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How Are Eating Disorders Diagnosed
Health care providers and mental health professionals diagnose eating disorders based on history, symptoms, thought patterns, eating behaviors, and an exam.
The doctor will check weight and height and compare these to previous measurements on growth charts. The doctor may order tests to see if there is another reason for the eating problems and to check for problems caused by the eating disorder.
For Parents: Eating Disorders In Teens
An eating disorder is a focus on food and bodyweight that causes a person to go to extremes when it comes to eating. Three of the most common eating disorders are binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia.
Eating disorders often develop during the teenage years or in early adulthood. Theyre more common among teenage girls but can affect teenage boys, too. They can be very stressful and damaging to a teens overall well being. The social effects include low self-esteem and isolation. Eating disorders can cause serious health problems that can become life-threatening.
Its not unusual for teens to change their eating habits from time to time. Some teens experiment with a different eating style or go on a diet to lose weight. They may occasionally skip a meal. Often, these changes pass quickly. Watch your teens behavior and eating patterns carefully. This will help you spot the difference between occasional dieting and an eating disorder.
There are many different signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Sometimes theyre obvious, but not always. Often, a person will work very hard to hide an eating disorder. The below lists some signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia. If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your teen, talk to your doctor. He or she can help evaluate your teens specific symptoms and recommend the best way to help.
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What Causes Eating Disorders
There’s no single cause for eating disorders. Genes, environment, and stressful events all play a role. Some things can increase a person’s chance of having an eating disorder, such as:
- poor body image
- too much focus on weight or looks
- dieting at a young age
- playing sports that focus on weight
- having a family member with an eating disorder
- mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or OCD
How Do Eating Disorders Affect Health And Emotions
Eating disorders can cause serious problems throughout the body.
Anorexia can lead to health problems caused by undernutrition and low body weight, such as:
- low blood pressure
- feeling tired, weak, dizzy, or faint
- constipation and bloating
- autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder
- problems at home and school because of eating behavior
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Warning Signs Of An Eating Disorder In Someone Else
It can often be very difficult to identify that a loved one or friend has developed an eating disorder.
Warning signs to look out for include:
- dramatic weight loss
- lying about how much and when they’ve eaten, or how much they weigh
- eating a lot of food very fast
- going to the bathroom a lot after eating, often returning looking flushed
- exercising too much
- cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
- wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss
Talking About Eating Problems
Binge eating disorder and your actions
If you experience binge eating disorder, you might:
- eat large amounts all at once
- eat without really thinking about it, especially when doing other things
- often eat unhealthy food
- eat for comfort when you feel stressed, upset, bored or unhappy
- eat until you feel uncomfortably full or sick
- hide how much you are eating
- find dieting hard whenever you try it.
“I dread any event with a buffet. Because I know I’ll eat and I’ll keep eating and I won’t even enjoy it but I’ll eat because I feel somehow I have to. I’ll eat even when I’m feeling full, when I’m feeling bloated, feeling pain in my gut, feeling sick.”
Binge eating disorder and your body
While experiencing binge eating disorder, you might:
- put on weight
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What If I Have An Eating Disorder
If you think you may have an eating disorder:
Tell someone. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor, or an adult you trust. Let them know what you’re going through. Ask them to help.
Get help early. When an eating disorder is caught early, a person has a better chance of recovery. Make an appointment with your doctor or an eating disorders specialist.
Go to all appointments. Treatment takes time and effort. Work hard to learn about yourself and your emotions. Ask questions any time you have them.
Be patient with yourself. There’s so much to learn, and change happens a little at a time. Take care of yourself and be with people who support you.
They Only Wear Baggy Or Heavy Clothes That Hide Their Body
There are two different reasons why a person with an eating disorder might only wear baggy clothes, both revolving around hiding the shape or size of their body. First, many people with eating disorders have a skewed and negative body image that makes them insecure about the way their body looks. Even if they are underweight, they will perceive themselves as fat or overweight. In these cases, they might wear baggy clothes to hide their irrationally perceived big body.
Another common cause, especially for people with anorexia nervosa, for wearing oversized or baggy clothes is to hide the results of disordered eating behaviors. People with eating disorders often feel guilty or ashamed about their eating behaviors and will make an effort to hide them from the people around them. If a person has become severely underweight, wearing baggy clothes will help them mask the weight loss, which may otherwise draw comments from others.
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