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What Are The Signs Of An Eating Disorder

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A Preoccupation With Food

Signs of an Eating Disorder

One of the common early signs of an eating disorder is a preoccupation with food and/or exercise. A person may spend more time speaking about food, looking for recipes online, and cooking and baking for others.

You may also notice:

  • Precise tracking of energy intake or steps
  • A sudden disinterest in certain food groups
  • An increased interest in different diets or health foods

As an eating disorder progresses, you may also pick up on certain food rituals and behaviours around meal times such as:

  • Eating foods in a certain order
  • Cutting food into tiny pieces
  • Having very specific portion sizes
  • Only using certain crockery and cutlery
  • Excessively chewing

When someone has an eating disorder, they will often continue to add more rules and rituals as time goes on.

How To Help If Someone Doesnt Want Help

  • Find a middle ground between forcing the issue and ignoring it.
  • Ask if they want help making the first call or appointment. They may just need support making that first call.
  • Sometimes it takes several tries before a person identifies the right clinician to help with their eating disorder. Remember that though eating disorders share commonalities, everyone is unique.
  • Even though these conversations are difficult, often people just need a little support and compassion. Not talking about it only encourages feelings of being isolated, ignored, and unimportant. The best thing you can do is to listen and to let the person know you care about them, are concerned for them, and want to help.

When speaking with someone about eating disorders, you may be met with ambivalence, denial or reasons why the person doesnt feel they need or want help. Try not to be discouraged, because simply having the conversation can open the door to more communication. For more tips and resources, on this topic, download the Support at Every Stage Guide.

Eating Disorders: Signs And Symptoms

Eating disorders are common illnesses that can cause serious medical complications, including death. About 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorder Association .

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which is taking place Feb. 24 to March 2 of this year, the following article describes the signs and symptoms of the three most common eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.

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When To Seek Support

With support and treatment, it is possible to recover from eating disorders. If a person believes that they have any form of disordered eating, they should speak with a doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Eating disorder recovery often involves working with a team to address the underlying causes of the condition, as well as its physical effects. The team may include:

  • a registered dietitian, who can help someone learn about the bodys need for nutrients and how to work toward a balanced diet
  • a primary care doctor, who can help heal or manage physical symptoms
  • a dentist, who can address the effects of bulimia on the teeth
  • a psychiatrist, if a person needs medications to reduce psychological symptoms

People can also benefit from online or in-person support groups. Some support groups are specifically for people with eating disorders, such as those associated with the National Eating Disorders Association . Others deal with support for mental illness in general, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connection groups.

Inpatient, outpatient, and residential treatment programs for people with eating disorders can include many of the above services in one place.

During the recovery process, compassion and support from family, friends, and colleagues are important. Some support groups or recovery programs may allow loved ones to attend sessions so that they can gain an understanding of eating disorders.

Signs And Symptoms Of An Eating Disorder

Eating disorders: know the signs

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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Preoccupation With Body Image

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.

Stomach Cramps & Constipation

Missing meals, force puking, eating small portions mess up your digestive system which causes stomach aches, gastrointestinal issues and constipation. Sudden spurts of unbearable pain in the tummy which is accompanied by dizziness and headache.

If you are someone or know someone who is dealing with an eating disorder, take help from a medical professional.

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A Regimented Exercise Routine

A person struggling with an eating disorder will often have a disordered relationship with exercise too. If you are concerned that someone is showing the early signs of an eating disorder, you may have started to become aware of the following:

  • Their exercise routines are often very strict and inflexible
  • They display distress if their routine is disrupted or if they cant train
  • Exercising takes precedence over other elements of their life including health, work and relationships
  • Despite evident tiredness and fatigue, they continue to exercise, even if theyre unwell
  • Exercise is used to work off calories, lose weight or offset an eating binge

An Obsession With Tracking

Eating disorder signs and symptoms

A person who is developing an unhealthy relationship with food is likely to keep track of their food and fitness. This tracking will be strict and regimented, where they monitor some or all of the following:

  • The number of calories consumed and burned
  • The number of steps taken
  • Changes in body weight and body measurements

Over time, tracking food and fitness can prevent people from being able to listen to signals from their body. Rather than focusing on what their body wants and needs, they come to rely on rules and restrictions outlined in tracking apps and devices to dictate how they should eat, drink and exercise.

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Starting A Conversation With Someone Who You Think Has An Eating Disorder

We understand that this discussion may be difficult to start, but if someone is showing the early signs of an eating disorder, such as anorexia, reaching out to them is so important.

When a person is in the initial stages of an eating disorder, they will often be more receptive to the idea of seeking help. We know that the earlier we can treat an eating disorder, the more likely that we can hope for a better prognosis.

The person may get angry or upset during your first conversation. If this happens, try not to feel too disheartened. Instead, let them know that you will always be there to support them and will listen when they are ready to talk. Then, try to have the conversation at another time when you both feel calm.

Force Puking After Meals

Most people struggling with eating disorders either eat too little or way too much, these binge eating habits cause a negative behavioural pattern in the mind of the individual. They eat too little, worried they may gain weight or end up overeating and then force themselves to throw up. Forceful puking also causes other problems which include eroded tooth enamel, yellowing of teeth and low oral hygiene amongst others.

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How To Treat Eating Disorders

Due to the insidious ways in which eating disorders pervade all aspects of ones body, mind, and life, receiving the appropriate treatment is important. There are various levels of care designed to treat specific stages of eating disorder severitythese range from inpatient at a medical facility down to outpatient. Any eating disorder treatment center can assess a struggling individual to determine the appropriate level of care.

Outside of receiving treatment in general, it is also important to ensure the facility uses evidence-based practices, as these can lead to better long-term outcomes.

There are many evidence-based treatments that can support eating disorder recovery the most well-known and most commonly used is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy , Dialectical Behavior Therapy , and Family-Based Treatment .

Do not be afraid to ask any questions that arise if you or a loved one are searching for the treatment that will best support recovery.

Cooking Elaborate Meals For Others

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia in Teenagers

Although people with anorexia may refuse food themselves, they are often eager to see others eat, sometimes going so far as to prepare elaborate meals for friends and family. This may be a form of vicarious pleasure, or eating “through” others.

Similar behavior was observed in the famous Minnesota Starving Experiment, conducted in the mid-1940s. Volunteers who were semi-starved and lost more than 25% of their body weight became obsessed with food and eating. Several of the men became collectors of cookbooks and recipes, a behavior that has been noted in people with anorexia as well.

Dry and blotchy skin, stemming from dehydration, sometimes signals ongoing anorexia or bulimia. “Frequent purging and laxatives can seriously dehydrate you,” Bulik says.

Dry skin isn’t the only mark of dehydration in people with eating disorders. Dry mouth, sunken cheeks and eyes, and severe electrolyte imbalances also can occur.

Another skin change that’s a telltale sign of bulimia, specifically, is the appearance of calluses on the knuckles. Know as Russell’s sign , these lesions are caused by repeatedly scraping the back of the hand against one’s teeth while inducing vomiting.

A result of malnutrition and low body fat, feeling cold is a symptom more often associated with anorexia than with bulimia or binge eating disorder. Frequently complaining about being cold or wearing sweaters and other heavy clothing even in mild weather are common tip-offs in people with eating disorders.

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Preoccupation With Nutritional Content

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.

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.

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Dont Delay In Contacting Your Family Doctor

Parents worried about a child with a possible eating disorder, should make an appointment with their family doctor as soon as possible. Serious medical complications can arise quickly in children and teens who diet, over exercise, or engage in other eating disorder behaviours, such as purging. The family doctor can help make the diagnosis, and make a referral to specialty services.

Physical Signs Of An Eating Disorder

Signs of an eating disorder

One of the most noticeable physical signs of an eating disorder is a fluctuation in weight, either up or down. However, this is not a reliable sign, as it does not occur in everyone. It is also possible for people to hide weight loss to an extent by wearing thick or layered clothing.

Other physical signs of disorders that restrict food intake include:

  • feeling cold a lot
  • 2017 study , researchers noted that although not everyone who compulsively exercises does so to lose weight, eating disorders and compulsive exercise share many symptoms and commonly occur alongside each other.
  • Orthorexia: This term refers to an obsessive interest in eating clean, pure, or healthy foods. It shares some similarities with anorexia and ARFID, but it is not currently a formal medical diagnosis.
  • Laxative abuse: This occurs when someone uses laxatives in the mistaken belief that doing so will prevent calorie absorption and cause weight loss.
  • Diabulimia: This occurs when people with type 1 diabetes restrict or otherwise misuse their insulin in an attempt to lose weight.

It is also common for people with eating disorders to have other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

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At What Point Does A Diet Become An Eating Disorder

In todays wellness-obsessed culture, it can be difficult to distinguish between occasional concerns around food, picky eating, a diet, and an eating disorder. Where can you draw the line between health and harm?

Signs that picky eating or a diet may be shifting into a fuller disorder may include planning meals days in advance, consulting nutritional information and weighing ingredients, feeling guilty or anxious when eating forbidden foods, becoming dependent on diet for self-esteem, and using moral convictions to justify rules around rigid eating to others. Overall, a disorder encompasses the inability to eat according to ones appetiteeating patterns are instead dictated by rules and specifications.

In a clinical context, a mental health professional can determine whether someone has a disorder or not by assessing the diagnostic criteria in the DSM. But even if someones struggles with eating or body image dont meet the clinical threshold, that doesnt mean they arent worth understanding and addressing.

Signs And Symptoms Of Bulimia

Bulimia, also referred to as bulimia nervosa, is characterized by frequent, recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food followed by purging vomiting, taking laxatives, exercising or fasting to get rid of the food.

Unlike people who suffer from anorexia nervosa, those with bulimia may not be underweight but may actually be normal weight or overweight.

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Binge Eating Disorder: Warning Signs And Symptoms

While most Americans have heard about common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, most dont realize that binge eating disorder is a separate psychological illness on the rise among people of all ages. Characterized by frequent episodes of eating excessive amounts of food, even without feeling hungry, binge eating disorder can result in an increased risk for several severe health conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

While there are eating disorder treatment programs that have been specially designed to help those with binge eating disorder to recover, less is known about the condition than other more common types of eating disorders. If parents believe their children may have binge eating disorder, early intervention is key. Before families begin their search for eating disorder treatment centers, it is best to learn more about the common signs and symptoms associated with binge eating disorder.

While there are many similarities between binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating type anorexia nervosa, one of the biggest differences with this type of eating disorder is the fact that individuals do not engage in purging behaviors after consuming large amounts of food.

Adopting Ritualistic Eating Habits And Rules

Eating Disorders and Women With PCOS

Eating a set quantity of a particular food at a certain time in a certain setting may be part of a daily routine. However, when taken to extremes that interfere with everyday life, ritualistic habits and rigid rules may indicate an unhealthy relationship with food. Eliminating whole food groups, limiting food intake, restricting quantities or following inflexible preparation practices may be a sign of an eating disorder.

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Signs Your Teen May Have An Eating Disorder

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

About 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from eating disorders, which range from the more commonly known anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa to the lesser known binge-eating and avoidant-restrictive-food-intake disorders.

Untreated, these disorders can lead to grave and possibly fatal medical problems, including heart arrhythmia, tachycardia, and heart attacks. Among psychiatric disorders, eating disorders have the highest fatality rate.

Teenagers are especially at risk and early intervention is key. But do you know what signs to look for?

Hear Mary Tantillo and Taylor Starr explain the warning signs of eating disorders and how to find the best treatment options:

Tantillo is a professor of clinical nursing at the University of Rochester and coauthor of the book Understanding Teen Eating Disorders: Warning Signs, Treatment Options, and Stories of Courage . Starr is an assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the Eating Disorder Program at Golisano Childrens Hospital.

Tantillo also offers the following 13 red flags parents should watch out for:

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