What to watch for if you are concerned someone you care about might be developing an eating disorder.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. This pattern of eating leads to disruption in someone’s behaviors, thinking, and mood. It also negatively impacts interpersonal relationships, school, work, and physical health.
Eating Disorder Symptoms
- Chapped lips and gray skin
- Fainting spells from malnutrition and dehydration
- Hair loss
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Musculoskeletal injuries and pain from excessive exercise
- Dental erosions from self-induced vomiting
- Chronic constipation, gastroesophageal reflux, and other gastrointestinal problems
- Markedly low blood pressure and pulse
- Prone to upper respiratory infections
- Low energy
- Overall poor health
Someone with an eating disorder will continue these behaviors despite physical and personal consequences. This may be caused by any number of factors and serve any number of purposes, but whatever the reason behind the eating disorder, these actions are harmful and can result in significant functional impairment, even leading to death in extreme cases.
7 Eating Disorder Warning Signs
While eating disorder behaviors can vary from person to person, we’ve identified some common warning signs to watch out for, including:
1. Alterations in Weight
If the person weighs less than 85 percent of their ideal body weight and exhibits other characteristic signs of an eating disorder, they can be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Someone can still be close to, at, or even above their ideal body weight and have an eating disorder. This is common in those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, marked by binging and purging.
2. 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 doesn’t 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.
3. Disruptions in Eating Patterns
You may notice that someone stops eating with the family, dislikes previously enjoyed foods, is preoccupied with counting calories and fat grams, drinks excessive amounts of water and caffeine to suppress their appetite, eats noticeably smaller portions, or refuses to eat at all. Or maybe they start bingeing on certain foods and going to the bathroom immediately after meals to vomit what they just ate. Also be on the lookout for newly developed eating rituals such as chewing for long periods before swallowing, cutting food into small portions, moving food around on the plate, or hiding food in a napkin to dispose of later.
4. 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.
5. Changes in Exercise Patterns
Another warning sign is when someone becomes preoccupied with physical fitness, spends hours exercising in a ritualistic way, talks excessively about the number of calories they’ve burned or gets upset if their exercise routine is disrupted.
6. Mood Fluctuations
As an eating disorder gains momentum, it may lead to signs of irritability, depression, and anxiety, causing the individual to stop socializing and lose interest in previously enjoyed activities.
7. Use of Laxatives, Diuretics, or Diet Pills
There is tremendous pressure on young girls and women today to look a certain way, but when they are willing to risk their health to achieve an unhealthy standard, resorting to laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills, that can be a sign they need help.