Eating disorders are consistent unhealthy eating behaviors that affect one’s health. These disorders also affect a person’s emotions and their ability to function in various areas of life.
The most common ones include:
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Anorexia nervosa
People with these eating disorders tend to focus too much on their body weight and image. As a result, their eating habits are negatively impacted, resulting in inadequate nutrition, among other problems. If left untreated, these disorders can affect the digestive system, cardiovascular health, teeth, and cause other severe health conditions.
However, diagnosing an eating order is not always straightforward. In some cases, people have an eating disorder but rule themselves out because they’re not showing all the signs. Some of the subtle warning signs of eating disorders can be easily overlooked.
So how can you tell if someone you care about is at risk? Here are some symptoms of eating disorders that can help you spot one even in the early stages.
Poor Body Image
One of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders is a poor body image, and it includes negative self-talk like “I’m so fat.” If you’re constantly criticizing how your body looks even when you have healthy body weight, that’s a red flag. You may also find yourself comparing yourself to others who you believe look better.
If you find yourself exercising too much to get rid of calories and panic if you miss a day of exercise, you should be concerned. This is a common habit among people with bulimia and anorexia.
If you have these disorders, you’ll find that you feel the need to exercise after eating because you’re afraid of gaining weight. What’s more, you’ll go overboard because you believe that the more you exercise the more calories you burn.
Fear of Eating in Public
Individuals with eating disorders also tend to avoid eating in public due to shame. It’s particularly common for binge eaters because they’re afraid of being judged. In Isolation, they believe they can eat as much as they please without a care in the world.
However, this behavior is followed by feelings of guilt and shame. To deal with these emotions, the person purges to eliminate excessive calories and keep their weight in check.
Fine Body Hair
Your body will also show signs that unhealthy eating habits are affecting your health. Fine hair known as lanugo is a sign of nutritional deficiencies that are caused by eating disorders, for example, anorexia and bulimia.
Because these disorders involve restrictive calorie intake, a person will have insufficient body fat. Lanugo in adults is an attempt of the body to keep itself warm. It’s a symptom of starvation and shouldn’t be ignored.
Fixating on Safe Foods
If you also tend to fixate on certain healthy or safe foods so that you don’t gain weight, that’s a cause for concern. Such habits lead to complete avoidance of certain foods and may result in nutritional deficiencies. In most cases, people eliminate carbohydrates and fats from their diet because they believe these food groups cause weight gain.
It’s also not uncommon to find people who adopt an extremely restrictive diet to ensure they don’t gain weight in the process.
The habit of constantly skipping meals with the hope of cutting back calories is also a red flag. Individuals who skip meals tend to binge and purge later in the day, which only makes matters worse. In the beginning, it may not seem like a big deal because you’re only skipping one meal a day.
However, it gets worse when people start noticing weight changes. They believe skipping meals works and they start skipping more.
Use of Laxatives and Unhealthy Weight Loss Supplements
A poor body image and obsession with getting a perfect body may lead to unhealthy weight loss patterns. One of the signs of eating disorders is an over-reliance on laxatives, and unhealthy weight loss supplements to keep one’s weight in check.
This habit is most common among binge eaters. They eat in excess then use laxatives and supplements to get rid of the excess calories. It’s also common in bulimia and anorexia nervosa and is often accompanied by excessive exercising.
Cooking Elaborate Meals for Others
People with anorexia are often afraid to eat. However, they don’t mind seeing other people eating. It’s a form of vicarious enjoyment, where they get to see others enjoy food because they believe they can’t.
As a result, they’ll tend to prepare elaborate meals for their family and friends even if they don’t plan to indulge. Furthermore, people with anorexia also tend to collect recipes and cookbooks.
An individual suffering from anorexia nervosa will also tend to feel cold a lot. It is a result of malnutrition and low body fat. You’ll notice that the person tends to complain about being cold and they’ll prefer to wear heavy clothing even in mild weather.
You see, body fat is a source of energy that enables us to retain body heat and keep warm when it’s cold. When there is too little body fat, it’s difficult to maintain the body temperature, thereby causing a person to feel cold even when it’s not. If the situation gets worse, the person may develop hypothermia.
People with anorexia and bulimia also tend to have extremely dry and blotchy skin. This happens due to excessive purging and the use of laxatives that leave the body dehydrated. However, the skin isn’t the only marker for dehydration in people with these disorders.
You will also notice your mouth is extremely dry, your cheeks are sunken and you have an electrolyte imbalance. It’s also not uncommon for the knuckles to have scraped skin. This happens due to the repeated scraping of the hand against the teeth when one induces vomiting using their fingers.
Strange Food Combinations
This warning sign is common among binge eaters. You’ll notice that they tend to mix food ingredients in weird combinations that most people wouldn’t even think of trying. For instance, mixing mashed potatoes with Oreo cookies and other toppings. This habit starts in isolation and slowly becomes apparent to those who are around the person.
The habit is often accompanied by feelings of shame which lead to purging. As a result, the person will tend to eat all the strange foods that they can find then force themselves to vomit so that they don’t gain weight.
Another warning sign of an eating disorder is strange rituals during mealtime. Some people are obsessed with arranging their food in certain patterns and cutting them into tiny slices, and they want to eat their food in a certain way. This is an early sign of anorexia or binge eating disorder.
When to Seek Treatment
It’s challenging to overcome an eating disorder by using willpower alone. If the disorder has been going on for a while, you need medical attention. Working with a medical professional allows you to learn healthy eating habits. Psychologists are involved in helping you rewire your perception of your body image and get to the root of the problem.
If you’re concerned about a loved one, you need to intervene before things get worse. Begin by addressing your concerns and talking to the person about them. Suggest treatment and get referrals of psychologists that specialize in eating disorders.
It’s easy for signs of eating disorders to go unnoticed, especially during the first stages. However, it’s crucial to watch your eating habits and those of your loved ones if you suspect an eating disorder.
Don’t wait until they’re showing all the signs because it may lead to serious health conditions. Seek professional help and get them the help they need. Calmerry offers reliable online therapy where you can find mental health professionals who specialize in this area.
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach.Read more