Does My Loved One Have an Eating Disorder?

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We are living in a culture where people are obsessed with thinness and dieting but it can be very hard to notice when a person’s thinking or behavior has become dangerous. It could be any of our daughter, sister, mother, relative, friend or roommate. Most people with eating disorders are in denial. Eating disorders are very serious. They have an impact on both physical and mental health and left untreated, they can be catastrophic. We may suspect that someone has an eating disorder, but not be certain. Once an eating disorder has been diagnosed, it can be treated successfully.

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The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers a list of three main types of eating disorders. Perhaps the most widely known of these is anorexia nervosa, which is a continual refusal to eat sufficient food to maintain a healthy weight or function. Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder. It is commonly associated with anorexia, and it is characterized by repeated cycles of binge eating and purging. Overeating is yet another form of an eating disorder, and it’s one that can lead to overweight, with all of the associated health issues.

In the early stages, it can be challenging to tell the difference between an eating disorder and normal self-consciousness, weight concerns, or dieting. As eating disorders progress, the red flags become easier to spot. But a person with an eating disorder will often go to great lengths to hide the problem, so it’s important to know the warning signs.

Warning Signs of Anorexia

Here are some of the common warning signs that indicate that a person may be suffering from anorexia.

The person:

  • Is thin and keeps getting thinner, losing 12% or more of his/her ideal body weight. 
  • Continues to diet or restrict foods even though s/he is not overweight. 
  • Has a crooked body image – feels fat even when s/he is thin. 
  • Is preoccupied with food, calories, nutrition or cooking. 
  • Denies that s/he is hungry. 
  • Exercises obsessively. 
  • Weighs himself/herself frequently. 
  • Complains about feeling bloated or nauseated even when s/he eats average – or less than average – amounts of food. 
  • Loses his/her hair or begins to experience thinning hair. 
  • Feels cold even though the temperature is normal or only slightly cool.

Warning Signs of Bulimia

Here are some of the common warning signs that a person may be suffering from bulimia.

The person:

  • Engages in binge eating and cannot voluntarily stop. 
  • Uses the bathroom frequently after meals. 
  • Reacts to emotional stress by overeating. 
  • Has a menstrual irregularity. 
  • Has swollen glands. 
  • Experiences frequent fluctuations in weight. 
  • Cannot voluntarily stop eating. 
  • Is obsessively concerned about weight. 
  • Attempts to adhere to diets, but generally fails. 
  • Feels guilty or ashamed about eating. 
  • Feels out of control. 
  • Has depressive moods or mood swings. 

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Here are some of the common warning signs that suggest a person may be suffering from binge eating disorder.

The person:

  • Eats large amounts of food when not physically hungry. 
  • Eats much more rapidly than normal. 
  • Eats until the point of feeling uncomfortably full. 
  • Often eats alone because of shame or embarrassment. 
  • Has a feeling of depression, disgust or guilt after eating. 
  • Has a history of marked weight fluctuations. 

It’s really not easy to watch someone you care about damage his/ her health – especially when the solution appears, at least on the outside, to be simple. But eating disorders aren’t really about food or weight. They are attempts to deal with emotional and stress-related issues. You can’t force a person with an eating disorder to change, but you can offer your support and encourage treatment. And that can make a huge difference.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get them the help needed to heal. Start the process today.


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