How to Identify Signs of an Eating Disorder

An eating disorder can develop among people of any gender, age and social background, but they are most common among those in early childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa are extremely common in as much as 3% of all children between the ages of 13 to 18. The warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders in children and adolescents can be difficult to recognize because they can present differently in children and teens than they do in adults. There is also a lot of misinformation about these disorders, but there are some signs and symptoms that you can be on the lookout for. Here is some brief information about the different types of eating disorders and some signs to be aware of.

Types of Eating Disorders

It is important to keep in mind that each eating disorder has its own specific criteria. The most common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa involves restricted eating and maintaining a significantly lower weight than is expected for their age and height. Those with anorexia nervosa will refuse to eat out of fear of gaining weight and body distortion.
  • Bulimia nervosa involves episodes of eating out of control combined with behaviors that compensate for the binges. For instance, after eating, the person may fast, vomit, use laxatives and/or over exercise.
  • Binge eating disorder involves the consumption of large amounts of food at discrete times.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Although the signs and symptoms may vary depending on the individual and their specific eating disorder, there are some signs that are more common and may help you identify if a loved one needs help with an eating disorder. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Weight concerns-the person may frequently express concerns about their weight or body shape, may frequently talk about wanting to lose weight, excessively talks about food or clean eating and/or is either actively dieting or talks about dieting.
  • Exercise-The individual increases their physical activity or exercise regimen, but they do not increase their calorie intake. They may become upset and anxious if they cannot exercise.
  • Meal preparations-The person may become highly interested in cooking, but they may not actually eat the meals they prepare. Prepare their meals individually-outside of what their family is eating.
  • Food control-The individual may become extremely upset when they cannot control the situation concerning their food. For instance, if a chosen restaurant doesn’t serve the type of food they intended to order.
  • Behaves oddly during and after meals-Someone with an eating disorder may frequently excuse themselves to use the restroom during and after a meal. They may refuse to eat in front of others, or they may engage in strange rituals involving food, such as cutting foods into small pieces or eating items in a specific order.
  • Changes in mood-There may be a significant change in their mood, such as becoming depressed, irritable, anxious or fatigued.
  • Change in energy-There may be a significant decrease in energy, and they may be less interested in the activities they once enjoyed.

It is important to keep in mind that many of the signs of an eating disorder may also be attributed to other factors. For this reason, it is critical that you recommend medical counseling at the first sign of possible eating disorders. With effective support, therapy and counseling, recovery is possible, but it is important that the disorder be addressed immediately. The longer recovery is delayed, the greater the risk is for serious health problems, even life-threatening.

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