Eating Disorders can be a serious and devastating illness, but like many illnesses chances of recovery are far better if they are caught early. So knowing the signs of an eating disorder could not only save a lot of pain and heartache, but could actually save a life too.
And I should know, I suffered from severe Anorexia Nervosa from my late teens until early 20’s…
But looking back the warning signs were there from much younger. It took six years, three inpatient hospital admissions, and every talking therapy and drug under the sun before I finally found the strength to fight my demons.
Anorexia is thought to affect up to 2% of the population and bulimia as many as 8%*.
Eating disorders can also manifest in other ways: binge eating, over exercising, and laxative use, or a person may have a combination of ways to control their food.
The ironic thing about eating disorders is that they’re not about the food at all. It’s about controlling your feelings, with food being the drug of choice. Over or undereating, or using other methods to manipulate your weight, are a way of numbing or distracting from distressing emotions.
It’s not about the food
These feelings could be due to immediate stresses in a person’s life – divorce or exam anxiety for example, or from past experiences such as family separation as a child or being bullied at school.
But regardless of any external factors, people with eating disorders usually have personality types which make them more susceptible. Perfectionism, being driven and a high achiever in combination with being sensitive and having low self-esteem are very common traits in people with eating disorders.
It’s one of my goals in life to help others fight these terrible illnesses
I want to inspire others that they too can recover. Early detection and intervention are key. You might be suspicious that you or someone you know is having food issues, so here are some of the signs of an eating disorder to look out for.
Behavioural Warning Signs:
- Repetitive dieting, counting calories, following diet plans, buying diet books, following fad diets and avoidance of certain foods.
- An obsession with size, weight and body image; reading magazine articles about them etc.
- Evidence of binge eating – wrappers in bins, spontaneous trips to shops, hoarding food in cupboards or hidden to eat later.
- Hiding food to be got rid of – in bins, pockets, under tables, in handbags.
- Develop obsessive rituals, for example using the same cup, plate or knife every time.
- Weighing food, taking control of family meals, reading cookbooks.
- Eating slowly or with small cutlery.
- A preoccupation with food.
- Frequent weighing and measuring the body, keeping ‘progress’ charts and food diaries.
- Size comparing to celebrities and other people. A preoccupation with size and weight. Dissatisfaction with body and an intense fear of gaining weight.
- Avoidance of meals, making excuses such as having already eaten. Avoidance of social situations that involve food.
- Social isolation, withdrawal from friends and family. No longer enjoying activities previously enjoyed. Low mood, or fluctuating emotional state.
- Wearing baggy clothes. Distorted body image. Very sensitive to any comments made about their weight or body.
- Signs of vomiting or laxative use – laxatives in drawers and cupboards, visiting the loo frequently after eating.
- Sudden changes in eating patterns such as refusing to eat certain foods previously enjoyed, or creating new food rules.
- Making lists of foods – good, bad, to eat, not to eat etc.
- Feeling (or being) out of control, especially around food. Anxiety around mealtimes.
- Compulsive exercise patterns, which are strictly adhered to down to the exact number of reps, regardless of the weather, injury, or other circumstance which might stop others from exercising.
Physical Warning Signs:
- Weight loss or gain (not always the case, especially in bulimia where sufferers may remain at the same weight), especially if rapid. Or frequent changes in weight.
- Feels cold easily, may wrap up in layers or drink many hot drinks.
- Low energy, lethargy, dizziness, fainting.
- Soft downy hair over the body (a physiological response to keep warm)
- Loss or disturbance to menstrual cycle in women
- Impotence in men
- Signs of vomiting; rotten teeth, bad breath, red knuckles, swollen cheeks, kidney or bladder infections brought on by dehydration
- Slow, fast, or irregular heartbeat
As you can see there are plenty of signs of an eating disorder. Like all mental illnesses eating disorders are complex and difficult to treat, which is why it’s important to be able to recognise the signs and intervene early.
If you or someone you know has any concerns at all contact a medical professional or eating disorder charity as soon as possible such as https://www.b-eat.co.uk