Research tells us that 28.8 million Americans, 9% of our population, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. If you experience disordered eating yourself or someone you love does, then you understand the impact it can have on your life. At Reconnect, we believe the mental health treatment community has a responsibility not only to treat conditions like anorexia or bulimia but to raise awareness about them.
This article will help you identify some of the warning signs that can be attributed to some eating disorders. While this information may be helpful in determining whether or not you or someone you love may be experiencing disordered eating, it is no substitute for a formal medical diagnosis. Eating disorders can lead to very serious health issues and even be fatal. If you have reason to believe you or someone close to you has an eating disorder, please don’t wait to ask for professional help.
What Are Some Common Eating Disorders and Their Signs?
We cannot begin to help ourselves or someone else unless we know a problem exists and what that problem is. This is why awareness is so important regarding our mental health. Being able to spot the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder is not a substitute for a formal diagnosis by a medical professional. However, it is the first line of defense and essential in seeing someone receive the help they need.
Below are the common eating disorders and a bit about how to recognize them:
Anorexia nervosa is a mental health disorder marked by extreme restrictions on food intake leading to severe weight loss. People with anorexia may severely limit their caloric intake or limit entire food groups from their diet. Symptoms and signs may include intense fear of gaining weight, preoccupation with body shape and size, obsessive counting of calories or exercise.
Other signs can include distorted body image; and denial of the seriousness of the condition. People with anorexia may misuse laxatives, diuretics, or enemas in an effort to lose more weight. Someone with anorexia may be dangerously underweight, but that isn’t always the case, especially in the beginning. Making yourself aware of other behavioral signs and cues could help you recognize them early and enable you to get someone help before it becomes more serious.
Warning signs of anorexia may include:
- Unusual, unexplained weight loss
- Extreme preoccupation with body size/shape and weight
- Excessive exercise, especially cardiovascular
- Obsessive calorie counting and restrictive eating
Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental health disorder characterized by binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as purging through vomiting, excessive exercising or overuse of laxatives. People with bulimia may feel compelled to eat large amounts of food in one sitting and then try to “undo” the caloric intake by rapidly purging afterward. Symptoms and signs may include cycles of binging and purging; fear of gaining weight.
Other signs and symptoms of bulimia include preoccupation with body shape and size; irrational guilt after eating normal meals; hoarding food for later binges; and mood swings Bulimia can be harder to spot than other eating disorders because a person with bulimia is more likely to maintain a “healthy” or conventional bodyweight and shape. People with eating disorders like bulimia also often go to great lengths to hide their behaviors and symptoms from others. They are also frequently in denial about these behaviors or the fact that they are unhealthy.
Warning signs of bulimia may include:
- Frequent episodes of binge eating
- Trying to compensate for binging by inducing vomiting, laxatives, enemas, etc.
- Extreme preoccupation with body size/shape and weight
- Unusual eating habits or rituals, like eating only certain foods, eating in secret, etc.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a mental health condition characterized by compulsively overeating, often to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. Unlike bulimia, people suffering from binge eating disorder do not follow up with compensatory behaviors such as purging or excessive exercising. Symptoms and signs include frequent episodes of binging on large amounts of food; feelings of shame and guilt after binging; eating in secret; hoarding food for later binges; and depression.
It’s estimated that 3.5% of women and 2% of men in the United States may have a binge eating disorder. This makes BED the most common eating disorder, as it affects three times as many people as anorexia and bulimia combined. Binge eating disorder can also be tricky to spot. Similar to other eating disorders, people who experience BED often try to hide their behaviors and conceal evidence of past binges.
Warning signs of a binge eating disorder include:
- Binging on large amounts of food, unable to stop even when full.
- Feelings of guilt or shame following a binge incident.
- Hoarding large amounts of food/snacks for later binges.
- Depression and anxiety
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED)
Sometimes the symptoms of an eating disorder may not seem to clearly fit in one of the above categories of EDs. OSFED is an umbrella term used to describe those conditions that don’t meet all criteria for other established eating disorders but still cause significant distress and impairment in daily functioning. Symptoms of OSFED may include extreme restriction on food intake; eating large amounts of food in one sitting (without purging afterward); preoccupation with body shape and size; feelings of guilt or shame after eating normal meals; fear of gaining weight; and bingeing on certain types of foods.
Help for Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating and Other Disorders
Living with an active eating disorder can be extremely challenging and quite lonely at times. Eating disorders also frequently lead to emotional stress and strain for the people closest to the person with the ED. We much always remember that awareness, compassion and access to appropriate care are so very important to people living with an eating disorder or any other mental health disorder.
People with anorexia, bulimia or who binge eat or have other disorders do recover, however. It’s absolutely possible to overcome and manage an eating disorder and live a happy, healthy life. The keys are awareness, professional diagnosis, treatment, and continuity of care. As eating disorders are chronic conditions, they must be managed for life. When that is done, though, the sky is the limit.
At Reconnect, we offer specialized mental health programs for trauma and mental health treatment for a wide range of conditions, including eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Our therapists and experts are passionate about helping people learn to manage their conditions and live better lives.
If you or someone you love is living with an eating disorder or any other mental health disorder, Reconnect wants to help. Give us a call at (310) 713-6739 today to find out what we can do for you.