Eating disorders are a serious matter that affects millions of people, especially women. They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible because when untreated, an eating disorder can result in a destructive and potentially lethal cycle. You may know someone who suffers from an eating disorder, but they try to hide or deny it whenever confronted. It can feel emotionally draining, as well as challenging to know when a person’s thoughts and behaviors associated with dieting has become dangerous. In order to know how to respond best, it is useful to understand the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. Below I have outlined the most common signs and symptoms associated with eating disorders.
What are the Typical Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorder symptoms include a drastic change in normal eating patterns, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a disturbance in how one experiences their body weight or shape. Different types of eating disorders exist, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Their characteristics, as explained by Healthline, include:
- Anorexia is a psychological disease that is characterized by a distortion of body image and an obsessive fear of weight gain.
- Bulimia symptoms include compulsive eating followed by deliberate purging, the use of laxatives or excessive exercise to prevent weight gain.
- Binge eating, which resembles bulimia, is characterized by eating excessive amounts of food at one time until one is physically uncomfortable. Binge eating differs from bulimia in that there is an absence of purging.
What are Common Warning Signs of Anorexia?
If the person:
- Is thin and continues losing 15% or more of her ideal body weight.
- Continues to diet and restrict foods.
- Has a distorted body image and feels fat, even when she is underweight.
- Denies hunger.
- Complains about feeling sick or bloated, despite eating a less than average amount of food.
- Steps on the scale frequently.
- Obsessively exercises.
- Loss of menstruation.
- Loss of hair or thinning of hair.
- Feels cold, despite a normal temperature.
What are Common Warning Signs of Bulimia?
If the person:
- Goes to the bathroom frequently after meals.
- Overeats as a reaction to stress and negative emotions.
- Unable to voluntarily stop eating.
- Has swollen glands.
- Experiences menstrual irregularities.
- Fluctuates in weight.
- Obsesses overweight.
- Feels out of control, shamed, or guilty about eating.
- Tries to diet, but generally does not succeed in efforts.
- Has up and down mood swings.
What are Common Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder?
If the person:
- Eats copious amounts of food, even when not physically hungry.
- Eats faster than normal.
- Eats until being uncomfortably full.
- Often eats in isolation due to shame or embarrassment.
- Has a history of marked weight fluctuations.
- Feels depressed, guilty or ashamed after eating.
How sufferers, their loved ones, and culture at large view eating disorders sets the tone for treatment and recovery. Eating disorders cut across race, color, gender, and socioeconomic groups. Nobody is immune. Moreover, even though there are common elements tied to the experience of an eating disorder, each person’s journey and their recovery is unique. Recovery isn’t an easy or short-term endeavor either. However, recovering from an eating disorder can also turn out to be one of the greatest triumphs of a person’s life. True recovery means no longer compromising one’s health, or using eating disorder behaviors to cope with or distract from problems.