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What Are Some Symptoms Of An Eating Disorder

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Preoccupation With Nutritional Content

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) Symptoms & Signs

A dedication to eating nutritious food is admirable, but if someone you know begins to classify foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, safe or unsafe, and is constantly searching out organic, low-fat diet foods, frequently visits websites focused on nutrition, or suddenly declares they are vegetarian or vegan, this, in conjunction with other behaviors, could be a sign that they need help.

Eating Disorders Signs & Symptoms

Eating disorders may be caused by co-occurring mental health disorders and can cause physical conditions that can be life-threatening. The earlier an eating disorder is recognized, the better the chances for recovery. Recognizing the early warning signs of eating disorders can make a tremendous difference in the long-term health effects caused by the disorder. Signs and symptoms of eating disorders can be generally divided into two sub-categories: behavioral signs and physical signs.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

Asking questions and providing information to your doctor or health care provider can improve your care. Talking with your doctor builds trust and leads to better results, quality, safety, and satisfaction. Visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website for tips at

More information about finding a health care provider or treatment for mental disorders is available on our Finding Help for Mental Illness webpage, available at .

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What Are Some Suggestions For Supporting Someone You Care About

  • Talk about the issue in a supportive and caring way
  • Remind them how much you care about them and how important they are to you
  • Read as much as you can about eating disorders to better understand what theyre going through
  • Be direct
  • Talk to them in private, not around other people or in public
  • Instead of using the word you say I
  • Be patient and go slowly, it may take them a while to come to terms with their issue, and admit that they are struggling
  • Always be there as a support and encourage them to seek treatment, if necessary
  • If you feel uncomfortable talking to them directly or feel as if they wont listen, write them a letter
  • Talk to your parent or a professional such as a teacher, school counselor, health care provider, nurse, or another trusted adult that will respect your friends privacy
  • Be encouraging
  • Withdrawal from friends

Signs And Symptoms Of An Eating Disorder

What Is Binge Eating Disorder, Its Symptoms And Treatment

Disordered eating describes a variety of abnormal eating behaviors that do not yet fit the criteria for an eating disorder. The main difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder is the frequency and severity of the abnormal eating pattern. Studies have shown that up to 50% of individuals demonstrate problematic or disordered relationships with food, body, and exercise. Disordered eating occurs when individuals eat for other reasons than hunger. Individuals with disordered eating eat when they are bored, eat out of stress, eat to cover up their emotions, may skip out on major food groups, eat the same thing every day, may skip meals altogether, or may even engage in binging and purging behaviors on a limited basis.  Strict diets can be examples of disordered eating and many studies have shown that dieting can lead to disordered eating and eventually full-fledged eating disorders. How do I know if I should be worried? What if this gets worse? These are the thoughts and questions, not only for those concerned for their loved ones but also for individuals who are unsure about what type of help they might need. There are three key factors: behaviors, obsession, and functionality. The following as are signs and symptoms associated with disordered eating:

Seeking help

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What Is An Eating Disorder

Like other mental health disorders, eating disorders are often misunderstood and thought to be a choice. However, eating disorders are serious medical conditions that can be dangerous and life-threatening. Dieting does not constitute an eating disorder but may be a possible trigger.

When seeking to understand what is an eating disorder and what is not, a clear eating disorder definition can be helpful. The National Eating Disorder Association defines an eating disorder as a serious but treatable mental and physical illness that is characterized by distress regarding a persons weight or body shape as well as irregular eating habits. An eating disorder can be defined by inadequate or excessive intake of food. These disorder eating patterns cause physical and mental damage.

An eating disorder can develop at any age but typically appears during the teenage or young adult stages of life. Eating disorders are treatable conditions but the consequences can be detrimental and life-threatening if they are left untreated.

Eating Disorders: All Guides

Posted under Health Guides. Updated 12 February 2021.

Eating Disorders Awareness

Eating disorders affect millions of people around the world. Theyre most common in cultures that focus on weight and body image and can affect people of all genders, races, ages, and ethnic backgrounds. People who have a negative body image and those who diet are at risk of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or a category called other specified feeding or eating disorder . Eating disorders have serious health consequences and require treatment. Recovery is likely with early intervention, the help of specially trained health care providers, and a support network.

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What Is Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. This binge-eating is followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating, such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. Unlike those with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa may maintain a normal weight or be overweight.

Symptoms include:

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth
  • Acid reflux disorder and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration from purging
  • Electrolyte imbalance , which can lead to stroke or heart attack

Signs You Might Have An Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders Symptoms & Warning Signs

Im in recovery from an eating disorder. When I say that, people often immediately think that means that I used to be extremely thin. Thats not the case at all, says Crisis Counselor Kait Vanderlaan.

Kait is certainly not alone. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that approximately 10% of the population will deal with some sort of eating disorder during their lifetime. Just like mental illness, anyone can be affected by an eating disorder.

Fifty percent of people texting into Crisis Text Line about eating disorders identified as LGBTQ+. According to Crisis Trends, these conversations were also 94% more likely to include mentions of bullying.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition , there are five categories of eating disorders:

Although these disorders can manifest differently, they can share a couple of the same signs.

These seven signs may mean you are struggling with an eating disorder. If these signs seem familiar, reach out for help. You should always see a medical professional to get a formal diagnosis.

  • You struggle to eat in front of others. Eating disorders make it difficult to engage with food in a healthy way. That might mean having a hard time eating in public or feeling like you need to hide the food that youre eating.
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    How Can I Participate In Research

    Clinical research is medical research that involves people like you. People volunteer to participate in carefully conducted investigations that ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose, and understand human disease. Clinical research includes clinical research trials that test new treatments and therapies as well as long-term natural history studies, which provide valuable information about how disease and health progress.

    Please Note:

    How We Care For Eating Disorders Patients At Boston Childrens Hospital

    Boston Children’s Hospitals Eating Disorders Program takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating patients with eating disorders. We are committed to helping our patients and their families at every step of the treatment process, and we provide recommendations with their specific needs and circumstances in mind.

    We provide both inpatient medical and outpatient care. If your child is an outpatient, they will be seen by a physician or nurse practitioner from our Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine as well as a dietitian. Your child may also see a psychologist or social worker.

    If your childs vital signs become unstable, they will be admitted to the hospital and treated with guidance from our inpatient clinical pathway. They will meet with medical doctors, behavioral medicine clinicians, and dietitians while participating in a special meal plan with customized goals for gaining weight.

    The commitment and compassion with which we care for all children and families is matched only by the pioneering spirit of discovery and innovation that drives us to think differently, to find answers, and to build a better tomorrow for children everywhere.

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    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.

    What Happens When A Person Doesnt Eat

    28 symptoms of eating disorders that arenât âbeing thinâ?

    Our bodies use food as fuel to keep all the important organs and cells running well. When a person doesnt eat, their body doesnt get the fuel it needs and then organs and body parts can suffer.

    Heart & Circulation: The heart is a muscle that can shrink and weaken when a person doesnt eat. This can create circulation problems and an irregular or very slow heartbeat. Blood pressure can get very low during starvation and a person may feel dizzy when they stand up.

    Stomach: The stomach becomes smaller when a person doesnt eat so when they start eating again, the stomach will likely feel uncomfortable . Also, the stomach will not empty as fast, making a person feel full longer.

    Intestines: The intestines will move food slowly often resulting in constipation and/or stomach aches or cramps when eating meals.

    Brain: The brain, which controls the rest of the bodys functions, does not work properly without food. For example, a person may have trouble thinking clearly or paying attention. They could also feel anxious and sad.

    Body Cells: The balance of electrolytes in the blood can be changed with malnutrition or with purging. Without food, the amount of potassium and phosphorous can get dangerously low which can cause problems with muscles and brain functioning.  Low potassium or phosphorus can also cause life-threatening heart rhythm problems.

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    Are Women More Likely To Develop Eating Disorders Than Men

    Eating disorders are more common in women than in men. The prevalence of anorexia over ones lifetime is three times higher for women than men among adults in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The lifetime prevalence is five times higher for bulimia two times higher for binge-eating disorder. In adolescence, eating disorders are twice as prevalent in girls than in boys. However, men still struggle with body image, weight, and eating disorders as well.

    Can Anyone Suffer From An Eating Disorder

    As mentioned briefly above, eating disorders can develop at any age and in any gender. Generally, anorexia and bulimia tend to be more prevalent in females than in males, with the onset usually starting around the age of 15. In terms of socioeconomic groups, anorexia does appear to be more common in Caucasians.

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    What Should Parents And Loved Ones Look For With Binge Eating Disorder

    The reasons for developing an eating disorder, like binge eating disorder, are different for each person. Some of the known causes of the condition include a genetic predisposition, social pressures and both cultural and environmental factors. Binge eating disorder is found among people of all ages and genders, as well as across all socioeconomic groups. Additionally, research suggests that binge eating disorder affects an equal number of men and women, unlike other common eating disorders that tend to affect women in larger numbers.

    Check If You Have An Eating Disorder

    Eating disorder signs and symptoms

    If you or people around you are worried that you have an unhealthy relationship with food, you could have an eating disorder.

    Symptoms of eating disorders include:

    • spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape
    • avoiding socialising when you think food will be involved
    • eating very little food
    • making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat
    • exercising too much
    • cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly
    • wearing loose or baggy clothes to hide their weight loss

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    What To Expect At Each Level Of Treatment:

    Outpatient: for someone who is beginning to struggle with an eating disorder, or who is stepping down from residential or intensive outpatient . There are two approaches to outpatient treatment: multi-disciplinary and family-based.

    Multi-disciplinary: This type of treatment often involves regular meetings with ALL members of the treatment team. Medical providers usually schedule weight-checks for patients who are recovering from an eating disorder anywhere from 3 times a week to once a month. They may also want to check blood pressure, heart rate, and urine to make sure the patient is drinking enough fluids. Meetings with the therapist and dietitian may be scheduled weekly or bi-weekly.

    Family-based treatment : This type of treatment puts parents and/or family members in charge of the recovery process. Family members control their childs food and offer support at every meal and snack with guidance from a licensed therapist who specializes in family-based treatment. Family-based treatment is usually done at home, and may involve only the family-based therapist and a medical doctor, but other health professionals may also be involved. The focus of the treatment is on weight restoration and behavioral change. Once weight is restored the therapy will focus on normal adolescent developmental issues.  This type of therapy is sometimes referred to as the Maudsley approach.

    What Is Anorexia Nervosa

    People with anorexia nervosa avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods. Even when they are dangerously underweight, they may see themselves as overweight. They may also weigh themselves repeatedly.

    There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa: a restrictive subtype and binge-purge subtype.

    Restrictive: People with the restrictive subtype of anorexia nervosa place severe restrictions on the amount and type of food they consume.

    Binge-Purge: People with the binge-purge subtype of anorexia nervosa also place severe restrictions on the amount and type of food they consume. In addition, they may have binge eating and purging behaviors .

    Symptoms include:

    • Brain damage
    • Multiorgan failure

    Anorexia can be fatal. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. People with anorexia may die from medical conditions and complications associated with starvation; by comparison, people with others eating disorders die of suicide.

    If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK , 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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    Helping Someone With An Eating Disorder

    If you think someone you know has an eating disorder, there are several ways you can talk to them about it and encourage them to get help.

    Many people with eating disorders dont seek out treatment on their own. They may feel anxious or ashamed about getting help. They sometimes may not even realize their behavior is harmful.

    Speaking with a loved one about your concerns can be difficult. Before approaching them, it can be helpful to:

    • Educate yourself on eating disorders. Learn accurate information to help you talk with your loved one.
    • Avoid oversimplified solutions. Recovering from an eating disorder isnt about willpower. Its not supportive to tell your loved one to stop bingeing or just eat.
    • Avoid judgement. Tell your loved one that having an eating disorder isnt something to be ashamed of. Remind them that recovery is possible.

    Helping someone who you think has an eating disorder can be challenging, especially if theyre resistant. You can use this guide from NEDA to learn more about being supportive.

    Preoccupation With Body Image

    Eating Disorders

    Do you know someone who spends an inordinate amount of time looking in the mirror, makes negative comments about her physical appearance and insists that they are overweight? That behavior alone doesnt necessarily constitute an eating disorder, but if they become preoccupied with certain celebrities and models, compare themselves unfavorably to them, or wear baggy clothing to hide their body shape, these actions can be cause for concern.

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    Is It Possible To Prevent Eating Disorders

    Researchers have found that many factors can help prevent the development of eating problems in children, adolescents, and young adults.

    Parents can play a positive role in reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors. Emphasizing health rather than weight is key. For instance, encouraging your child to eat fruit and vegetables and exercise regularly as a way to lose weight or change the body can be harmful. However, encouraging these behaviors as a way to be healthy can be very beneficial.

    What About Other Eating Issues

    There are many different types of eating and body image issues that can affect anyone, at any age, though they are less common than the four primary eating disorders. These include Rumination Disorder, when someone consistently regurgitates food after eating; Orthorexia, a form of extreme clean-eating; and Food Addiction when someone cannot control their intake of specific types of foods or ingredients. These, and any other abnormal or excessive behaviors that relate to diet or body image are conditions that often require professional treatment to prevent symptoms from worsening.

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    The Dos And Donts Of Intervention

    If you recognize some warning signs in yourself or a loved one, consider the following recommendations:

  • Do something fast. Early intervention is associated with the best outcomes, says Dr. Heinberg. Once disordered eating becomes entrenched in a persons daily life, its much harder to address. In fact, the patient may deny that its causing problems at all. Patients with bulimia or anorexia often refuse to recognize that they need help.
  • Dont let an overwhelming fear of gaining weight stop you. Most people with anorexia fear that getting treatment will mean that they have to start eating normally, which will result in weight gain and a variety of perceived horrible consequences. According to Dr. Heinberg, the starved brain tends to perpetuate this kind of irrational thinking.
  • Dont ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Disordered eating is a scary and upsetting topic for most people to think about, notes Dr. Heinberg. But that shouldnt make you dismiss serious symptoms as a phase that will pass. That strategy doesnt work and can delay effective treatment.
  • Dont give up! Do whatever you can to encourage someone with a potential eating disorder to seek professional help. Follow up on appointments as well as the milestones related to treatment and recovery.
  • How Is Nimh Addressing Eating Disorders

    Signs of an eating disorder

    The National Institute of Mental Health is conducting and supporting research that could help find new and improved ways to diagnose and treat eating disorders. For example, the NIMH Eating Disorders Research Program supports research on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment at medical institutions across the country. It also supports studies that can help explain the risk factors that cause eating disorders to start or reoccur. The programs studies on treatment help move basic science findings from the lab bench to a patients bedside.

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    Emotional Symptoms Of An Eating Disorder

    The emotional symptoms of an eating disorder are as varied as the causes, and they can sometimes have consequences that are as serious as the underlying disorder from which they spring. If you are feeling the effects of what you think may be an eating disorder, dont hesitate to reach out for help; call us at as soon as you can.

    There Is Hope For Binge Eating Disorder

    Do you think you or someone you know is suffering from binge eating disorder? Take our short binge eating disorder quiz to find out. And, if you do see signs of binge eating disorder, we can help.At Eating Recovery Center, the Binge Eating Treatment and Recovery Program offers specialized treatment to help you heal from emotional distress and stop the cycle of bingeing. For a complimentary, confidential consultation, our Masters-level clinicians are available to discuss your treatment options at 877-825-8584.

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    Binge Eating Treatment: Understanding Common Eating Disorders

    Before 2013, binge eating disorder was only considered a subtype of other more common eating disorders. Now that it is formally recognized as a separate condition, binge eating treatment is better understood, with more options offered and more insurance coverage provided. While binge eating disorder has recently been defined as a separate disorder from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, each of these common conditions have some similarities. Before individuals and their loved ones can choose an eating disorder recovery program that is right for their needs, it is important to learn more about the different types of eating disorders and their symptoms.

    How Will An Eating Disorder Impact My Life

    Common health problems among teens: Eating disorders

    In addition to disrupting your day-to-day activities, an eating disorder can affect your mental and emotional health. You might find yourself feeling more anxious about the number of calories you consume or ashamed about your weight. You may start to isolate from friends and family who express concerns about your health, and that isolation can lead to depression.

    The physical impact of an eating disorder can be significant. Over time, disordered eating behaviors can damage your digestive tract, skin, bones, and teeth, as well as the functioning of various other organs, such as your heart. Eating disorders have the highest death rate among mental health conditions, especially anorexia. In fact, the risk of early death for those with anorexia is 18 times higher than that of their peers. Thats why early recognition of symptoms and appropriate treatment are essential. 

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    Symptoms Of Eating Disorders

    If you have an eating disorder, you may:

    • Restrict the amount of food you eat
    • Eat more than you need
    • Strictly control what types of food you eat
    • feel out of control when you eat
    • Feel anxious about eating and situations which involve eating around other people
    • Eat in secret
    • Respond to difficult emotions by eating, even when youre not hungry
    • Think about food a lot of the time
    • Compare your body to other peoples
    • Weigh yourself a lot

    Other effects of eating disorders include:

    • Experiencing depression or anxiety
    • Feeling increasingly tired or fatigued
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Feeling distant from friends or family trying to help you
    • Avoiding social situations involving spontaneity
    • Noticeable change in your appearance
    • Develop other long-term or short-term physical health problems or complications

    Your attitudes towards foods and eating patterns may feel typical, but if you find that theyre impacting on your quality of life, its important to find advice from friends, family or a medical professional.

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