What Symptoms Should I Be Concerned About
The following symptoms may indicate that someone has an eating disorder:
- Avoidance of eating or excuses for not eating
- Dieting, weight fluctuations, excessive exercise, and poor body image, each on their own, may not be a sign of an eating disorder. Eating disorders may also look different in children.
- Disappearance of food
- Frequent dieting behavior and/or preoccupation with dieting
- Frequent weight fluctuations, significant weight loss, or being significantly underweight
- Poor body image
If a loved one is showing the above signs, the next questions to ask are whether a preoccupation with eating, shape, and weight are negatively impacting their life. For example, does it interfere with their ability to concentrate, sleep, socialize, or work? Has there been a recent noticeable shift in these behaviors? If so, further evaluation is advised.
Do not be put off if your loved one insists there is not a problem. This is often a symptom of the illness. Even if you feel that they might not be sick enough, it is best to err on the side of caution. Early intervention and treatment can reduce the length of illness and improve chances for a full recovery.
How Are Eating Disorders Treated
Treatment will be different depending on the type of eating disorder your friend or relative has.
It will usually involve some kind of talking therapy because help with eating and putting on weight alone is usually not enough.
Your friend or relative will talk to a therapist about the emotional difficulties that led to their eating disorder, and they will learn healthier ways to cope with these feelings. Their treatment may also involve them working through a guided self-help programme.
During their treatment, they will also have regular health checks to look after their physical health.
Treatment will take place over a number of weeks so your friend or relative can get used to the changes slowly. The earlier they start, the better their chances of making a good recovery.
What Is An Eating Disorder
Eating disorders are complex conditions that cause people to develop severely disrupted eating habits. This isn’t just about diet changes or trying to lose a small amount of weight eating disorders are mental illnesses that can take over someone’s life and the lives of the people who are closest to them. Whilst it is true that eating disorders are most common amongst teenage girls, anyone of any gender, age or background can develop an eating disorder.
People suffering from an eating disorder usually have an obsession about their appearance, weight and body shape. This causes them to control or restrict their food intake, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food. These unhealthy behaviours can cause a whole host of long-term psychological and physical problems, and can even be fatal.
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Dont Underestimate Your Ability To Help
Many people with eating disorders report that it was only because of other people in their lives caring about them that they recovered. Keep this in mind when things seem hopelessyou can be enormously helpful to your friend or loved one.
Even if they are not engaging in treatment or seeming willing to accept help, reach out periodically to remind them you care about them and ask if theres anything you can do to support them. Offer hope and remind them that most people with eating disorders do recover.
Enter With Compassion: What You Should Say
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How Do I Know If I Have An Eating Disorder
Recognize common emotional symptoms of eating disorders. Many individuals with disordered eating habits are excessively concerned with body size, weight, and appearance. Some common behavioral and emotional symptoms that someone with an eating disorder might have include: paying an unusual amount of attention to food and calorie intake
How To Help A Friend With An Eating Disorder
Trying to talk to someone you suspect has an eating disorder can be a daunting prospect. But this tricky conversation can be an essential first step to getting them the specialist support they need. Once they have confided in you, there’s a lot you can do to support them too.
Here are some ways you can help.
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Can You Tell If A Friend Has An Eating Disorder
I found out during sixth form that three of my friends had had an eating disorder in their GCSE years. Each time, my immediate reaction for which I now chide myself was one of surprise: they’d always looked so healthy.
As someone who has since come through an eating disorder myself, and as a volunteer for Beat the UK’s leading eating disorder charity I’ve spent years encouraging people to look beyond the visual to recognise the disease.
Only 10% of eating disorders sufferers are anorexic and easily identified by severe weight loss. Around 40% suffer from bulimia and the remaining 50% from “ednos” .
Though some people struggling with bulimia or ednos are underweight, the majority have a normal BMI, while some are overweight. When I heard my friends’ admissions, I instantly fell into the trap of equating “eating disorder” with “emaciation”, forming a host of regrettable assumptions about their experiences.
It’s often assumed that anorexia is fuelled by vanity and a desire to emulate skinny celebrities. In reality, eating disorders, including anorexia, are serious mental health problems, triggered by a complex interplay of low self-worth, difficulties in coping with problems and possibly genetics.
They may become extremely anxious at meal times and try to get out of events that revolve around food you may notice they have taken to eating alone.
Experts Answer: How Do You Tell If Someone Has An Eating Disorder
30 May 2013
Each week, MyHealthNewsDaily asks the experts to answer questions about your health.
This week, we asked mental health experts: How can you tell if someone has an eating disorder?
The experts noted that the diagnosis of any mental illness should be left to professionals. Still, there are some signs to look for. Here’s what they said.
Sondra Kronberg, a nutrition therapist and spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association:
Eating disorders should be taken seriously. They are serious medical and mental health conditions that could potentially be fatal.
Most eating disorders are triggered by someone deciding to go on a diet. It becomes no sugar, no fat, or whole food groups could be eliminated. It really depends on what you believe, what piece of information you take to an extreme: I’m not going to eat any bread, or I’m not going to eat anything with salt on it, for example.
Irregular appearance or disappearance of food in the household can indicate an eating disorder, as can a new anxiety around particular foods. Look for whether a person has changed their thinking around food: talking constantly about food, weight or calories if they never really talked about those subjects before. Or if a person who was once not picky becomes inflexible about the type or amount of food they eat.
Changes in ability to focus, communicate or socialize are a sign. If you’re starving your brain or undernourishing it, it doesn’t perform well.
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What Can I Do If Theyre Open To Getting Help
You can find out which counseling or health services are available on campus. Have the NEDA Helpline handy and help them find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders if the on-campus support is underwhelming.
Remember: Your friend might feel vulnerable, ashamed, and alone. One of the most supportive things you can do is offer to walk or drive them to their first session, then hang out until the appointment is over. Having that extra nudge can make all the difference in starting someone on a path toward recovery, Zerwas says.
Is There Anything I Definitely Should Not Say
Lots of thingsso glad you asked. Avoid commenting on their looks, size, or weighteven if its to say your friend looks healthy or strong. For someone struggling with an eating disorder, those words can get twisted and feel like daggers, Zerwas says. And mentioning how thin they seem is just as harmful. The eating disorder part of their brain will be really pleased to hear that they look smaller or like theyve lost weight.
Dont tell them how weird or abnormal their behaviors are, complain about your own weight, or try to convince them that they look fine. Eating disorders are not logical illnesses, Davis points out. You cant reason someone out of one.
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Can You Give Me Advice On How To Lose Weight
This question is not only triggering to the client but also may make them believe that their eating disorder was a positive tool, and one that they should continue to use. This statement can also pull them back into a downward spiral with their illness by making them feel like they now need to compete with you, or by making them fear that you may achieve better results than them.
Understanding Your Loved Ones Eating Disorder
Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances in eating behaviorsfollowing rigid diets, bingeing on food in secret, throwing up after meals, obsessively counting calories. Its not easy to watch someone you care about damage their healthespecially when the solution appears, at least on the outside, to be simple. But eating disorders are more complicated than just unhealthy dietary habits. At their core, theyre attempts to deal with emotional issues and involve distorted, self-critical attitudes about weight, food, and body image. Its these negative thoughts and feelings that fuel the damaging behaviors.
People with eating disorders use food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Restricting food is used to feel in control. Overeating temporarily soothes sadness, anger, or loneliness. Purging is used to combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing. Over time, people with an eating disorder lose the ability to see themselves objectively and obsessions over food and weight come to dominate everything else in their lives. Their road to recovery begins by identifying the underlying issues that drive their eating disorder and finding healthier ways to cope with emotional pain.
While you cant force a person with an eating disorder to change, you can offer your support and encourage treatment. And that can make a huge difference to your loved ones recovery.
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Noticing Other Warning Signs
How To Talk To Someone About Their Eating Disorder
The decision to make a change is rarely an easy one for someone with an eating disorder. If the eating disorder has left them malnourished, it can distort the way they thinkabout their body, the world around them, even your motivations for trying to help. Bombarding them with dire warnings about the health consequences of their eating disorder or trying to bully them into eating normally probably wont work. Eating disorders often fill an important role in the persons lifea way to cope with unpleasant emotionsso the allure can be strong. Since you may be met with defensiveness or denial, youll need to tread carefully when broaching the subject.
Pick a good time. Choose a time when you can speak to the person in private without distractions or constraints. You dont want to have to stop in the middle of the conversation because of other obligations! Its also important to have the conversation at a time of emotional calm. Dont try to have this conversation right after a blow up.
Explain why youre concerned. Be careful to avoid lecturing or criticizing, as this will only make your loved one defensive. Instead, refer to specific situations and behaviors youve noticed, and why they worry you. Your goal at this point is not to offer solutions, but to express your concerns about the persons health, how you much you love them, and your desire to help.
What not to do
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Look For Resources Together
If your friend is fearful or hesitant about finding professional help, take away some of the burden, Cabrera suggests. Say there are lots of credible resources online, she advises, and compile a few links.
If youre a close enough pal, grab info about their health insurance provider and do some research into psychiatrists or dietitians who specialize in eating disorders. It can go a long way to simply offer, I found three professionals that are in-network near us, who do you like best? Cohn suggests.
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How To React If Your Friend Tells You About Their Eating Disorder
For many of us, understanding eating disorders is difficult. Thats why you should do everything you can to not judge your friend and to encourage them to talk to you about their illness if and when they want to.
It was really hard for me to put myself in shoes, and it still is even to this day, Robin says. Since Im a person who loves myself, food and life, it was so hard to try and understand what she was going through. My friend would always tell me, I know you probably dont understand how I feel, but thats okay. Just be here for me. So Robin found it in herself to help her friend in every way possible, even though she couldnt relate to what her friend was going through.
Its important to acknowledge that if a friend comes to you for help, she has probably been thinking about getting help for a long time, and it is a huge step, Richard says. Sit and listen. Tell your friend you are glad shared struggle with you and you are here to support her. Try not to problem-solve, but let her know that you will help her find the right help and be there along the way, that she is not in this alone. Make sure she knows you will respect her privacy.
If you start to feel helpless, sad or angry, take a step back and remind yourself that these emotions are completely normal. Although your friends recovery can be a long process, it will be well worth it when you see your friend healthy again.
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Types Of Eating Disorders
The most common eating disorders are:
Anorexia. People with anorexia starve themselves out of an intense fear of becoming fat. Despite being underweight or even emaciated, they never believe theyre thin enough. In addition to restricting calories, people with anorexia may also control their weight with exercise, diet pills, or purging.
Bulimia. Bulimia involves a destructive cycle of bingeing and purging. Following an episode of out-of-control binge eating, people with bulimia take drastic steps to purge themselves of the extra calories. In order to avoid weight gain they vomit, exercise to excess, fast, or take laxatives.
Binge Eating Disorder. People with binge eating disorder compulsively overeat, rapidly consuming thousands of calories in a short period of time. Despite feelings of guilt and shame over these secret binges, they feel unable to control their behavior or stop eating even when uncomfortably full.
Eating Disorders: Helping A Friend
Being a friend to someone with an eating disorder can sometimes be very challenging. It is normal to feel frustrated, worried and scared for your friend, especially if s/he isnt able to admit that there is a serious problem. Being secretive about eating and exercising is a common characteristic of an individual with an eating disorder, and you may feel that you have to watch over your friend to make sure s/he is taking care of her/himself. The truth is that you have very limited influence on your friends eating habits, and it is ultimately her/his decision about what and how s/he eats. This is not to say that you should give up on or reject your friend who has an eating disorder. People who have sought treatment for an eating disorder often emphasize how important the ongoing support of their friends and family was to their eventual recovery. They say that having friends who both continued to believe in them, and also to relate to them beyond just their eating disorder was crucial in their taking steps toward health.
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