Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve disruptions in eating behavior or negative attitudes related to food or weight. Left untreated, eating disorders can affect physical health and lead to complications such as heart problems, kidney damage, and more. As such, it’s important to recognize the signs of an eating disorder first and get the person help early on.
The most common signs of an eating disorder include obsessive or restrictive behaviors around food such as excessively calculating caloric or fat content, counting every calorie consumed, and avoiding certain foods. Other signs are an ongoing preoccupation with thoughts of hunger or being full, extreme discomfort when eating around others, feelings of guilt or shame associated with food, and an excessive exercise routine.
People with an eating disorder may also obsessively weigh themselves and monitor their weight to an unhealthy degree. They might also express a distorted body image, be concerned about gaining weight when they are already quite lean, or disapprove of their body weight or shape. Other behavioral signs can be seen in obsessive food rituals, such as cutting food into small pieces, eating only specific foods, or excessively counting their bites or bites that are taken from others’ plate.
In some cases, there may be physical signs of an eating disorder. These can include extreme thinness or significantly rapid weight loss, dizziness or fainting spells, and an unhealthy decrease in energy levels. If the person is severely malnourished, they may experience hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails, or constipation.
Unfortunately, because many people who suffer from an eating disorder may go to great lengths to conceal or disguise their symptoms, it can be difficult for parents, siblings, and loved ones to notice any of the warning signs. In these cases, some of the general indicators of an eating disorder that loved ones may be able to spot are frequent dieting, withdrawal from social events, refusal to eat or drink around others, and rapid fluctuations in clothing size.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these telltale signs of an eating disorder, it is essential to get the individual professional support as soon as possible. Eating disorders are highly treatable, but the earlier they are diagnosed, the less likely they are to cause long-term harm. Treatment options include talking therapy, nutritional counseling, and if necessary, medical supervision to ensure that the patient is receiving adequate nutrition. With the right treatment and dedication, the path to health and recovery is possible.