It’s Not Just a Diet, Is It? A Guide to Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms/Warning Signs

It’s Not Just a Diet, Is It? A Guide to Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms/Warning Signs

It’s Not Just a Diet, Is It? A Guide to Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms/Warning Signs

Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms
Eating Disorders and Their Symptoms

The types of eating disorders that people may exhibit can vary depending on a myriad of factors, including: age, personality, and any other mental or physical disorders that may be present. A warped self-image and societal pressures may lure individuals with a low self-esteem into manipulating their body weight through starvation or purging. Others might suffer from emotional eating or lack the ability to maintain a normal eating schedule without resorting to an unhealthy eating regimen.

Whatever the reasons and type of disorder, if you suspect that someone you care about has an eating disorder, it’s very important to be aware of the signs so you can approach your loved one with information to back up your concerns. It’s also important to know how to handle your own feelings about this and how to confront your loved one so they can get the help they need from professionals as well as from you and other friends and family. It is important that the illness be treated in hopes of preventing other clinical disturbances occur, such as depression, substance dependencies or anxiety disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Commonly referred to as simply ‘anorexia,’ anorexia nervosa is one of the more well-known eating disorders found in people who have a strong fear of gaining weight or getting fat. This fear doesn’t go away, even when the individual is at a healthy weight or even severely underweight. Because of this they continue to diet and exercise and to lose even more weight. Symptoms of anorexia include not eating proper portions for a person their size, taking weight loss supplements or medications, depression, or being confused much of the time. Most people with anorexia report having unattainable ideals about weight and image, a negative self-image, or having eating problems as a young child. The news and media coverage of celebrities who are underweight being considered beautiful is frequently cited as a cause of some of these problems in some individuals.

Anorexics will display certain signs and symptoms, including excessive weight loss, thinning hair, dry skin, brittle nails, cold or dry skin, low blood pressure, fatigue and osteoporosis. Psychological and behavioral signs may also include: a distorted self-image, a refusal to eat, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, inability to remember events or situations, and depression. Loved ones should watch out if the afflicted skips meals, obsessively weighs themselves, repetitiously cuts foods into tiny pieces, and restricts food intake.

A short hospital stay is usually necessary to begin treatment for someone with anorexia nervosa so they can begin to get proper nutrition and so that any long-term effects of their malnutrition can be evaluated by a physician and treated if necessary. One on one counseling and group therapy will help to keep someone optimistic about their prognosis, and a nutritionist can help monitor progress. Because depression or anxiety is a root cause of many cases of anorexia, an anti-depressant or mood stabilizing prescription drug may be used to help relieve these feelings.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa, or bulimia for short, is very similar to anorexia in that those who suffer from it have a fear of gaining weight. Bulimics are preoccupied by their weight and are constantly thinking about how their actions are affecting it. The classic symptom of bulimia is binging and purging, or eating a lot at once and then trying to get rid of it by throwing up, taking diuretics, or exercising uncontrollably. However, they may also suffer from digestive problems like constipation and gas, dehydration, and depression. Weight can fluctuate quite a bit for someone who is bulimic, but it may not be as severe as with anorexia. Although their weight may seem healthy on the surface, because they are purging their body of needed nutrients they are most likely very malnourished. Being malnourished can cause or contribute to many other health problems that can be very serious if not treated.

If left untreated, bulimia can spiral out of control and eventually lead to severe health problems, such as damaged teeth and gums, abnormal bowl movements, oral sores, dehydration, irregular heartbeat, depression and anxiety. Loved ones should remain vigilant for abnormal behavior in the afflicted if they exhibit signs of persistent worrying over their self-image, eating large amounts of food and then going to the bathroom right afterward, using dietary supplements or laxatives, excessive exercising, and refusing to eat in public or with others.

The first action by a physician will usually be to prescribe an anti-depressant and to monitor any health issues that have come up because of the eating disorder. Counseling, either one on one or in a group, will help the individual to face their disorder and get support for changing their lifestyle. A nutritionist can help them replace old eating habits with new, healthier ones.

  • University of Maryland Medical Center: Bulimia Nervosa – Facts and information on the signs and symptoms of bulimia are available on this website.

  • Langone Medical Center: Bulimia Nervosa An informational hot-spot for all things bulimia, including definition, causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Binge Eating Disorder

Those who binge eat regularly and suffer from the disorder will frequently eat beyond the point of feeling full and sometimes even to the point of physical pain. Binge eating is a cycle of emotional, mental, and physical actions and results that combine to create a situation that can, in some instances, be very dangerous and not just hard to live with. Eating starts as a way to comfort and soothe, but as a sufferer of binge eating gains weight from their constant calorie intake, they begin to suffer from depression about their image and guilt about their actions which often leads them to binge eat more.

Sufferers will display signs and symptoms, such as recurrent binge-eating episodes, eating until uncomfortably full, eating more rapidly than usual, eating alone due to embarrassment, feeling disgusted, depressed, and guilty over their overeating habits. Those close to someone who has a binge eating disorder may notice them eating bigger portions, eating more quickly, or eating more often. Loved ones should watch for signs of rapid weight gain, weight fluctuations, secretive eating habits, hoarding food, night-time snacks, depressed and anxious moods, social withdrawal involving food, and consuming food until uncomfortable and in pain.

Other mental problems are thought to trigger the binge eating cycle in some people, and in some it appears to be random. Once binge eating disorder is diagnosed, a doctor will want to treat the physical problems as a result of the overeating first, since those can be most threatening. A psychiatrist can then help them with therapy, anti-depressants, and even family group communication therapy so that family supports are in place. A nutritionist may be called in to help them notice and change bad eating habits.

Compulsive Overeating

Binging, as found with bulimia but without the purging, is one aspect and symptom of the disorder known as compulsive overeating. During a binge, someone who overeats compulsively will usually have little to no control over how much they are eating at that time and will eat substantially more than someone who does not overeat in the same period of time. This results in becoming overweight and suffering from the various physical and psychological conditions that result from that.

Most people who suffer from compulsive overeating eat in private due to shame so friends and family may not see the eating occurring. However, noticing lots of food wrappers for high-carbohydrate foods, or seeing weight increase quickly, can be signs of an overeating disorder. Depression and anxiety are apparent in nearly all over-eaters, but it’s not completely apparent whether the compulsive overeating or the depression/anxiety came first.

A physician or psychiatrist can put together a treatment plan using family supports, nutritionists, one on one therapy, group sessions, anti-depressants, and medical treatments to cover all aspects of the disorder and the health problems related to it.

  • Compulsive Overeating/Binge Eating – Find out why people often associate compulsive overeating and binge eating.

  • What is Binge Eating Disorder? From UCLA, find helpful information about binge eating in adolescents.

  • Binge Eating Fact Sheet – provides information on the disorder and how it affects women.

Starting the Conversation

It’s important to recognize when there may be an eating disorder present, but it’s even more important to do something about it. However, doing your research on the problem and knowing how to confront your loved one without making them defensive or more ashamed of it is your top priority as a person, or group, that cares about them. The first point to bring across is your concern for them. They need to know that you care and that’s why you are starting this conversation. Offering to support them will go a long way toward helping them to want to help themselves.

Know what resources are available before you start the conversation so that if they are receptive to the talk, you can give them more information about where they might seek help. Be willing to follow through on any promises for support that you give during this conversation, and remember that they may need to just talk to someone to make them understand how they feel, so listening carefully and responding genuinely will be important. If there is somewhere especially comforting or non-threatening for this person, try to have the conversation there, if possible.