Monday, January 25, 2021

How to Recognize an Eating Disorder When You See One

Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that can affect people of every age, race, ethnicity, and gender. Someone who has an eating disorder may exhibit a range of signs and symptoms that range from obvious to subtle. People close to someone with an eating disorder may not be prepared to recognize the more subtle signs; this can prevent them from reaching out to help the person who is struggling with the eating disorder

For this reason, we’ve listed some basic information about eating disorders, the signs you may see when these disorders are present, and what steps you can take to get help for yourself or a loved one.
Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

A binge eating disorder is actually the most common form of eating disorder in the United States, although it doesn't get as much recognition as others. People with binge eating disorders engage in binge eating episodes, where they compulsively eat large amounts of food in a short time. They may engage in dieting behaviors, but they do not engage in purging behaviors, such as vomiting.

If you suspect that your loved one may have binge eating disorder, keep an eye out for:

  • Episodes of eating large quantities of food in secret.
  • Frequent dieting.
  • Extreme concern with weight and/or body shape.
  • Unexplained weight gain.
  • Keeping stashes of junk food, or hiding food.
  • Discomfort about eating in a public setting.

People with binge eating disorder may feel out of control during episodes of binge eating, and they might begin to organize their schedule to accommodate these binge eating episodes. Binge eating disorder can lead to many of the negative symptoms of obesity such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a well-known restrictive kind of eating disorder where people severely restrict their caloric intake, leading to extreme weight loss. They are typically preoccupied with their body weight and may experience a distorted body image. Some of the most common signs of this disorder and behavioral symptoms include:

  • Obsession with body weight, appearance, and avoiding weight gain
  • Prolonged or extreme weight loss.
  • Frequent dieting and counting calories.
  • Chewing and spitting.
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide body shape.
  • Always feeling cold
  • Lethargy.
  • Lack of normal menstrual cycles in women.
  • Intense fear of weight gain.
  • Extreme or compulsive exercise
  • Becoming isolated or withdrawing from social engagements.

People with anorexia nervosa face a long list of negative symptoms. It is the most dangerous form of mental health disorder, with the highest death rate and suicide rate of them all. People with anorexia nervosa might also experience gastrointestinal problems, anemia, dizziness, thinning hair, muscle weakness, and a variety of other physical problems.

Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is similar to anorexia nervosa in that it often includes body image distortions and a fear of gaining weight. However, rather than restricting food intake, people with bulimia try to prevent weight gain by purging the food they eat, often during binge eating episodes similar to those in binge eating disorders. The most common way to purge is self-induced vomiting, but other methods like laxative abuse or excessive exercise are also common. Sometimes, the person will use several purging methods. Some of the signs of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Obsession with weight and body shape.
  • Evidence of binge eating episodes, such as large amounts of food disappearing or watching the individual eating large amounts of food at one time.
  • Discomfort at meal times.
  • Unusual rituals involving food.
  • Keeping breath mints on themselves at all times, and other ways to hide the smell of vomit.
  • Calluses on the fingers and knuckles.
  • Evidence of purging, such as disappearing after meals, spending too much time in the bathroom, and laxative packages.
  • Rapid or sudden tooth decay.

Bulimia nervosa can have many negative health effects, including thinning hair, dry skin, muscle weakness, and a range of other issues.

Recognizing Eating Disorders in a Friend or Family Member

If you believe your loved one may have an eating disorder, make sure you research their symptoms and maybe even talk to a professional before raising the issue with them. Many eating disorders cause the person great stress at mealtimes, especially when others are present, so keep your eye out during shared meals. In fact, many people discover eating disorders during the holidays, when family gatherings are common. Make sure you don’t jump the gun – a conversation about a person’s potential eating disorder is not an easy one.

Getting Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment for eating disorders is available in a variety of forms, including residential treatment, outpatient day treatment, and partial hospitalization programs. Residential treatment programs are conducted in inpatient facilities that provide all the resources people with eating disorders need to get better, with 24/7 medical, psychiatric, and therapeutic care.

Reach out to an expert such as an eating disorder counselor or the admissions staff at an eating disorder treatment center if you want to help yourself or your loved one attain a full recovery. They can help you diagnose the disorder, arrange treatment, and enter an eating disorder treatment facility, as well as arranging transportation and financial considerations.


With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment  – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.


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