Recognizing the Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder


Today marks the first day of 2018 NEDAwareness Week (National Eating Disorders). Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses and so it is essential to understand the recognize the true warning signs and symptoms.

Our culture values and applauds a particular body type and it is cherished and celebrated on social media as well. It is imperative that you recognize the difference between a healthy and appropriate approach to food and weight and a compulsive and unhealthy one.

Here are some signs and symptoms of an eating disorder:

  • Constant, negative thoughts about your body. Rather than being appreciative of everything your body helps you achieve, you become consumed with all the things you don’t like about your body.
  • Food dominates your thoughts. You obsess about your next meal, how many calories it contains and how you can make it less calorically dense.
  • You stop spending time with others. The thought of eating with others, having anyone see you eat or being questioned about your eating habits causes you extreme anxiety.
  • You feel you have no control around food. You are unable to stop eating when comfortably full and consistently eat more than is necessary.
  • Food is something you use to soothe emotions. While eating can be part of pleasure or celebration, you find yourself eating when stressed, tired, angry, upset, scared or lonely.
  • You skip meals. In an effort to cut your daily calorie total, you skip meals, try to fill up on liquids or eat foods that are low in calories but don’t provide real nutrients.
  • Foods are categorized as good or bad in your mind. You think certain foods should be off-limits for reasons unrelated to health, or have an increasingly shrinking list of foods you think are acceptable to eat.
  • Concentration is difficult. Your mind often feels fuzzy and you are unable to focus on the daily tasks at hand, potentially due to lack of nourishment and energy.
  • You think people who are thinner than you are somehow better. You idolize others you know (or see in popular culture) who are smaller than you and either ask about their diet or do research to find out how people in the public eye remain thin.
  • You become obsessed with the idea of healthy living. Whether reading healthy living blogs obsessively, only buying foods from the health food section or cutting out former foods that brought you joy and satiation, you mask disordered eating behaviors behind the idea of self-improvement.
  • You use excessive exercise, fasting, restriction, and/or purging through self-induced vomiting or laxatives to manage weight.
  • You use/overuse medications or diet pills to curb appetite.
  • You feel cranky, irritable, and "not yourself" much of the day
  • You know you need help and are afraid that help = weight gain and won't seek it.

These are signs and symptoms that you might also recognize in someone you love, even a pre-teen or teenager.  It is important to seek professional help immediately if you suspect that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder.

The support and guidance from a mental health professional who is training specifically in working with eating disorders is essential and help get you or your loved one on the path toward a healthy eating plan and body image immediately.