Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental health disorders and are more common than you may think, affecting nearly 29 million Americans.

In this article, we’re exploring the common signs and symptoms of eating disorders.

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

According to reports, 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and among females, it is the third leading chronic illness.

Statistics like these prove eating disorders can affect anyone. That’s why it is essential to understand the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and how to help someone get help.

Here’s what you need to know about the common signs and symptoms of eating disorders.

What Is An Eating Disorder?

The American Psychiatric Association defines an eating disorder as a mental illness that affects behaviors. It is described as a disturbance in eating patterns that are severe and are connected to distressing thinking.

Eating disorders involve an obsession with food and the body, specifically with weight or shape. They can lead to adverse health consequences and, for some, can be fatal.

There are several causes of eating disorders.

What Causes an Eating Disorder?

There is not a single thing that makes someone develop an eating disorder. Instead, multiple factors contribute, including biological, environmental, and psychological.

Biological factors can include heredity. Specific genes associated with eating disorders can be passed down through generations. Hormonal dysfunction and deficiencies in nutrients and minerals can also factor into whether a person acquires an eating disorder.

Personality traits like neuroticism, impulsivity, and perfectionism may play a role in creating an eating disorder.

Mental health disorders that go untreated may lead to other mental illnesses, like eating disorders. If someone has low self-esteem or has a negative self-image, they are more susceptible to developing diseases with eating and obsessions with appearance.

Further, environmental factors like past traumas, abuse, stressors, and culture have been connected to eating disorders. Family, sports coaches, and career industries can place great emphasis on having the right weight, height, or muscle mass can make an athlete feel pressured to do whatever it takes to conform, even if that means developing an eating disorder.

There are general signs and symptoms to look for in someone who may be struggling.

General Signs and Symptoms

Each eating disorder has specific characteristics. However, there are general behaviors common among all of them that will suggest a person needs help.

For example, if someone is an average weight, thin, or underweight, yet they consider themselves heavy or obese. If someone seems obsessed with counting calories and the fat content of foods or switching between fasting and overeating, they may have an eating disorder.

Additional signs include isolating themselves, avoiding social events where food will be served, constant weight changes, and a fixation on consuming foods. Some may create rituals around the way they cook, cut, or chew food.

The key to helping someone with eating disorder symptoms is to pay attention to their eating behaviors. For the most common eating disorders, there are specific behavioral patterns.

Related: 13 Different Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight. Body image becomes an obsession. Some may think they are overweight even when they are medically considered underweight and at risk for organ malfunctioning.

Someone with anorexia may have a restricted eating pattern, distorted body image, low self-esteem, and the desire to find ways to become thinner. They may also try to hide their body with oversized clothing to avoid comments and feedback from family and friends about their low weight.

Bulimia Nervosa

Someone with bulimia nervosa goes through over-eating or bingeing large amounts of food in a short time and then purging the foods they consumed. Purging, they believe, will help them avoid calories staying in the body. Some purge to relieve the digestive pain caused by bingeing.

Purging does not always relate to forceful vomiting. It can also be done using laxatives, diuretics, and extreme exercise.

Many with bulimia binge on foods they would typically avoid, like junk foods. Once they start eating, they cannot stop and often feel out of control. Like someone with anorexia, they have a distorted body image of themselves and have an extreme fear of gaining weight.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is common in the United States. With this illness, a person will binge on foods but do not follow up with purging. Instead, they experience a great deal of grief, disgust, sadness, and shame.

People eat even when they are not hungry to satisfy negative emotions. Unfortunately, those who binge eat may also struggle with obesity and obesity-related health issues.

More Eating Disorders

Less common eating disorders include pica, rumination disorder, orthorexia, and avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder.

Pica is the act of eating non-food substances. Rumination disorder involves a person chewing their food, swallowing it, regurgitating it, chewing it again, and then spitting it out or swallowing it again.

Orthorexia is a condition in which someone is fixated on healthy eating. The obsession can interfere with daily functioning due to the potential to develop compulsive coping behaviors.

Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder consists of a person undereating because they lack interest or because the texture, smell, or taste makes them feel sick.

All eating disorders can be successfully treated and overcome with the right help.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

If you feel you may have an eating disorder, the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. Meet with a psychiatrist who can assess your behaviors and symptoms and verify whether you have an eating disorder. Also, they can find out if you have co-occurring conditions that may also need treatment.

Eating disorder treatmentcan range from inpatient rehab to outpatient services. Depending on your current mental and physical health and whether you need temporary medical assistance, you and your psychiatrist will create a treatment plan for recovery.

Treatment plans can include medication, family therapy, dialectical, and cognitive-behavioral therapies. Many mental health centers provide alternative healing methods like meditation, yoga, and time to practice spirituality.

You can overcome an eating disorder. Give us a call or reach out virtually to discover how we can help.