Although many of us generally understand the concepts of eating disorders as when someone doesn’t want to eat or wants to eat too much, this view barely scratches the surface and isn’t quite accurate. Those behaviors may be what is visible, although what’s really going on behind the scenes with a sufferer’s mental health is much more complicated.
Eating disorders are more than lifestyle choices or someone’s deliberate decision to eat more or less; they are actual medical conditions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
There isn’t one universal trigger for eating disorders, and each person’s condition is unique. Mental health providers have made great strides in the last decade to find more effective treatment methods, as well as better defining the symptom presentation of an eating disorder.
Eating Disorder Definition
Before examining the signs of eating disorders, it helps to have a clear eating disorder definition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, they’re serious and sometimes fatal illnesses that connect eating behaviors with associated thoughts and emotions.
Although many are detected during adolescence or young adulthood, they can occur anytime, regardless of weight, age, socioeconomic background, or gender. Women, however, do have higher rates of diagnoses of certain eating disorders.
There are several factors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Genetics, the environment, and social pressures may all impact a sufferer’s obsession with appearance, which becomes distorted as the inaccurate body image is internalized.
People who do seek treatment and professional therapy for an eating disorder generally see positive results. Thus, it’s vital that friends and family recognize the signs and encourage them to find help.
Learn to spot types of eating disorders
There is often shame and embarrassment attached to having an eating disorder. Sufferers may try to conceal their behaviors, avoid situations that involve food, and binge and purge in secrecy. Although common eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder, there are also less common types, such as Pica that involves eating items that aren’t food.
Concerned loved ones can look for clues such as:
- Excessive negative comments about weight. While most of us may occasionally gripe about gaining or losing a few pounds, those with eating disorders make it a constant topic.
- Noticeable weight changes, especially when compared to peers.
- An increase in dressing in layers to cover their figure.
- Physical changes such as hair loss, pale skin, tooth decay, bad breath.
- Behavioral changes, including increased trips to the bathroom or more requests to be excused to stay in the bedroom at mealtimes.
- Emotional changes such as increased irritability, anger, defensiveness.
- Evidence of binging, such as excessive empty food wrappers, or evidence of purging, such as laxative packages.
- More interest in breath-freshening items like mints or gum.
- Increased interest in cooking and food preparation.
While an actual diagnosis of an eating disorder is made by a mental health professional, friends and family can help their loved one acquire effective treatment by gaining knowledge and sharing their concerns and observations.