Eating disorders are complex disorders that take time to resolve. While they appear to be physical, they are mental illnesses often rooted in fear, anxiety, depression, loss of control, low self-esteem and/or interpersonal relationship struggles. Genetics may also play a role. Eating disorders are more common in women than men, but that doesn’t mean men don’t have them.
If you have an eating disorder, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible to avoid lasting detrimental effects on your health. The goal of treatment is to reveal the root of the disorder, find ways to manage it, and forge a healthy path forward. With success, you can learn to love yourself and your body, enjoy food again, rediscover feelings of hunger and fullness, and establish a truly healthy, fulfilling lifestyle.
Step one, though, is recognizing the eating disorder itself. Telltale signs of an eating disorder may include:
Obsessively Counting Calories or Weighing Oneself
While counting calories is often encouraged by weight loss plans, there’s a fine line between being calorie conscious and being obsessed. Not being able to think about eating without doing calorie math can signal a problem, as can weighing yourself before and after meals.
Odd Eating Habits
Eating disorders are often about control. This can manifest in many ways, including oddly ritualistic ways of eating; for example, cutting food down into tiny, precise bites and pacing yourself to consume less in an extended amount of time.
Eating an abnormal amount of food in one sitting, like an entire pie, is common with eating disorders such as bulimia. After binge eating, you may feel guilt, shame, illness or a strong urge to get rid of the extra calories.
Extreme Weight Loss (or Gain)
Healthy weight loss involves losing 1-2 pounds a week by eating well and exercising. Unhealthy or extreme weight loss involves losing more by periodically starving oneself. The same can be said of weight gain and overeating. People with eating disorders tend to show extreme changes in weight over a short period of time. This can lead to other conditions such as amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) and low bone density or osteoporosis.
Regular Bathroom Visits After Meals
This is common with bulimia, which involves purging (vomiting) after binge eating. If you or someone you know regularly visits the bathroom right after meals for long periods of time, they may be purging. They could also have a different health issue, such as a digestion problem, so it’s important not to jump to conclusions right away.
Severe Dizziness or Fainting Spells
Regular dizzy spells or loss of consciousness can result from acute or chronic malnutrition or dehydration. If you are not eating enough calories or getting enough fluid throughout the day, your blood pressure drops. This means that certain parts of the body, including your brain, are not getting enough blood flow.
Exercising can be healthy, but compulsive or excessive exercise can do more harm than good. Over-exercising is another way to “purge” excess calories and the guilt that comes with them. Signs include prioritizing exercise above all else, working out when sick or injured, trouble sleeping, exhaustion and dehydration.
On their own, the above signs don’t necessarily indicate an eating disorder, but when observed together or as a regular pattern, an eating disorder is likely. If you or someone you know displays these behaviors, it may be time to seek counseling. Eating disorders can place a lot of stress on the body and have serious consequences, including death. Don’t wait – confront an eating disorder now and begin the road to recovery.