Today is day 4 of Eating Disorder Awareness week. On Monday, I talked about what an eating disorder is, and the types of eating disorder, and today I’m going to be discussing the signs and symptoms of many eating disorders, which are key to look out for if you are concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering with an eating disorder.
Most early signs of anorexia involve preoccupation with food or dieting. A sufferer’s behaviour may appear obsessive and compulsive, and begin to consume more time. Over time, disordered eating patterns will become more noticeable to others, and they will potentially disrupt education, career, and social relationships. Early warning signs include someone refusing to eat or denying that they are hungry, even if they have skipped meals. They may make excuses for not eating, or only eat a few foods that they consider to be safe (usually those low in fat and calories). Also, they may cook large meals for others but refuse to eat them themselves, or they may appear to be controlling their eating heavily- they may weigh food or adopt eating rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing. Obsession with body shape and size may be a warning sign of the development of an eating disorder, and difficulty concentrating is a common side effect of calorific deficit (a shortage in the amount of calories required).
Several other behaviours are also recognised as warning signs of anorexia nervosa, such as excessive exercise, and a low mood. You should also be concerned if someone repeatedly checks their weight by weighing themselves, or frequently checks their body in mirrors. Similarly, someone complaining about being fat and wearing baggy/layered clothing (as this may hide a body they are insecure about, or disguise weight loss) could be a reason to make sure that somebody is feeling okay.
If you suspect that someone has bulimia, the first thing to look out for would be evidence of binge eating or purging. The disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time may be a sign of binge eating, which could be indicated by finding wrappers and containers of large amounts of food. Frequent trips to toilets after meals can be a sign of purging behaviours, especially alongside the presence of packaging for laxatives or diuretics or the signs of vomiting. Some signs of vomiting frequently include swollen cheeks or jaw, broken blood vessels in the eyes, the scent of vomit, teeth that look clear (from the acid content in vomit) or stained, and scrapes on their knuckles or the back of their hands (if they are involved in their method of inducing vomiting).
Also, if someone becomes withdrawn from their usual friends and activities, especially if they replace these activities with a kind of schedule that could accommodate binge-and-purge sessions, they may be at risk. If someone has a very rigid exercise regime, and exercises continuously, even in spite of weather or injury, then this may be a sign that they are struggling with a compulsive need to burn off calories they have taken in, which can be a symptom of the disorder. As with most other eating disorders, obsessing about weight or appearance can indicate that someone may be struggling with bulimia.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
BED often has numerous behavioural signs and symptoms, which may include eating large amounts of food, even when full. Someone with BED can often eat rapidly during binge episodes, but this may not be obvious to people around them if they frequently eating alone or secretly, which may also be a warning sign, because they could be engaging in this behaviour because they are embarrassed about the amount of food that they are consuming.
If someone frequently diets but doesn’t show any signs of weight loss, it may suggest that they are depriving themselves of calories to the extent where their body makes them consume a lot at once- finding empty food containers which indicates that they have eaten a large amount in a short space of time may be a sign of this behaviour. Expressing feelings of guilt, shame, or disgust after binge eating is another obvious sign that their eating may be disordered, and if someone is planning a binge, they may begin hoarding food (especially if they frequently stock up on the same foods, which may be their ‘special’ binging food.)
Because EDNOS is a category that every eating disorder that doesn’t match the requirements for a diagnosis of anorexia, bulimia, or BED falls into, it does not have a specific set of signs and characteristics, but a few examples of other eating disorders do.
Signs that someone may be struggling with Pica mostly show themselves in the individual noticeably eating inedible objects, such as dirt, sand, stones and pebbles, hair, faeces, lead, plastic, paper, chalk, wood, string, wire, or cigarette butts. Signs that someone may have eaten inedible objects include malnutrition, intestinal blockage or internal injury, or an infection from bacteria in these objects.
Because the disorder is most commonly seen developing earlier in life, it is important to look for any of these behaviours in children, but it is important to remember that curiosity and occasionally eating inedible objects can be a normal part of development up to the ages of 18-24 months. The behaviour must persist for at least one month to be categorised as Pica. It is important to take the condition seriously and see a doctor if you are concerned, because children with Pica often have it alongside another condition, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or an intellectual or developmental disability.
Night Eating Syndrome
Overall, the signs of NES are similar to those of BED. Those with night-eating syndrome will eat little or nothing throughout the day, and fill up on high-calorie foods in the evening or at night, so it is important to look out for the signs of binge eating that I mentioned earlier in this post. Things to look out for in potential NES sufferers may include being overweight, frequently failing attempts at dieting, signs of anxiety and depression, and a negative self-image.
Determining whether a loved one is suffering from muscle dysmorphia, or if they are just dedicated to bodybuilding, can be difficult, but if you recognise the following signs in them, it is important to encourage them to seek treatment as soon as possible.
If someone is preoccupied with the idea that their body is not lean or muscular enough can be a warning sign of muscle dysmorphia, especially if they are also constantly scrutinising themselves in the mirror or avoiding looking in the mirror entirely, then this could be a sign that they are feeling extreme discomfort with their body as a result of bigorexia. Another indicator of the disorder is maintaining an extreme exercise program, usually including long hours of weight lifting and working out (sometimes in spite of injury), and paying excessive attention to diet with focus on healthy foods and protein. This can also be paired with the individual frequently giving up social activities or work obligations because of a compulsive need to maintain their workout and diet schedule, because they may feel extreme anxiety in the case of missed workouts Excessive use of food supplements or steroids can also indicate muscle dysmorphia, as studies show that over 50% of men with the disorder report steroid abuse.
Similarly to bigorexia, it can be difficult to determine whether a loved one is concerned about their health to a normal or unhealthy extent. However, there are also key signs that can indicate that their worries have led to the development of orthorexia. The biggest indicator that someone may be struggling with orthorexia is that they may begin to obsessively concern over the relationship between food choices and health issues, and may begin to avoid a large amount of food for this reason- their choice of ‘acceptable’ food choices may be reduced drastically, leading them with few ‘safe’ foods as the disorder develops.
Another sign may be that they have noticeably increased their consumption of supplements, herbal remedies, or probiotics alongside their restriction, and have developed irrational concern over food preparation techniques, leading them to wash off food or sterilise utensils unnecessarily. Another sign that may suggest orthorexia is present is worsening depression, mood swings or anxiety, as well as feelings of guilt when deviating from strict diet guidelines. Sufferers may also regularly plan meals in advance, and begin to only eat at home, as they fear that eating anywhere else may make it impossible to comply with their diet. Their social lives may also be affected by orthorexia, as they may distance themselves from friends or family who do not share similar views about food, or think critically of them for not adhering to rigorous diets.
These are just a few telltale signs of disorders that most commonly affect people. If this post has led you to believe that someone close to you, or you, may be at risk for an eating disorder, then tomorrow’s post will detail how to seek help for an eating disorder. It is important not to worry too much, however, as just because someone is showing these signs, it doesn’t mean that they definitely have an eating disorder.
Thank you for reading! I hope you have found this post helpful and I wish you the best of luck in your recovery. Keep growinggg!