Does my loved one have an eating disorder?
Because we live in a culture obsessed with thinness and dieting, it can be difficult to recognize when a person's thinking or behavior has become dangerous. You may know someone with an eating disorder. It could be your daughter, sister, mother, relative, friend or roommate. The person may try to hide it, but the focus of her everyday life revolves—obsessively—around food and weight. Some people try to starve themselves. Others binge and then try to undo their bingeing through some form of purging. Most people with eating disorders are in denial.
Eating disorders are very serious. They have an impact on both physical and mental health and left untreated, they can be fatal.
You Can Help
If you know someone with an eating disorder, you can turn to Renfrew to help you understand that person's issues and offer suggestions for ways in which you can help. Or, you may suspect that someone has an eating disorder, but not be certain. Once an eating disorder has been diagnosed, it can be treated successfully.
People with anorexia, bulimia and/or binge eating disorder may exhibit some—though perhaps not all—of the signs and symptoms identified below. Becoming aware of these warning signs is the first step toward helping. When you help, you can save someone's life.
Anorexia (clinically known as anorexia nervosa) is self-imposed starvation. It is a serious, life-threatening disorder which usually stems from underlying emotional causes. Although people with anorexia are obsessed with food, they continually deny their hunger. Women with anorexia often limit or restrict other parts of their lives in addition to food—relationships, social activities or pleasure. Anorexia can cause serious medical problems and even lead to death.
Warning Signs of Anorexia
Here are some of the common warning signs that indicate that a person may be suffering from anorexia.
- Is thin and keeps getting thinner, losing 15% or more of her ideal body weight.
- Continues to diet or restrict foods even though she is not overweight.
- Has a distorted body image—feels fat even when she is thin.
- Is preoccupied with food, calories, nutrition or cooking.
- Denies that she is hungry.
- Exercises obsessively.
- Weighs herself frequently.
- Complains about feeling bloated or nauseated even when she eats average—or less than average—amounts of food.
- Loses her hair or begins to experience thinning hair.
- Feels cold even though the temperature is normal or only slightly cool.
- Stops menstruating.
Bulimia (clinically known as bulimia nervosa) is the repeated cycle of out-of-control eating followed by some form of purging. Bulimia is a serious eating disorder which can be fatal. The purging associated with bulimia may be self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, or obsessive exercising. Women with bulimia often feel out of control in other areas of their lives and may spend money excessively, abuse drugs or alcohol, or engage in chaotic relationships.
Bulimia can have severe medical consequences including dental and esophageal problems, kidney damage, chemical imbalance and an overall loss of energy and vitality.
Warning Signs of Bulimia
Here are some of the common warning signs that a person may be suffering from bulimia.
- Engages in binge eating and cannot voluntarily stop.
- Uses the bathroom frequently after meals.
- Reacts to emotional stress by overeating.
- Has menstrual irregularities.
- Has swollen glands.
- Experiences frequent fluctuations in weight.
- Cannot voluntarily stop eating.
- Is obsessively concerned about weight.
- Attempts to adhere to diets, but generally fails.
- Feels guilty or ashamed about eating.
- Feels out of control.
- Has depressive moods or mood swings.
Binge eating disorder is more commonly referred to as compulsive overeating and can affect women or men, though it appears twice as often among women. People with binge eating disorder suffer from episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing followed by periods of guilt and depression. A binge is marked by the consumption of large amounts of food, sometimes accompanied by a pressured, "frenzied" feeling. Frequently, a compulsive overeater continues to eat even after she becomes uncomfortably full. Those identified as having Binge Eating Disorder generally do not purge. Although many who meet the criteria for this category are larger than average, many are of average size and weight.
Binge eating can lead to serious medical problems including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and depression.
Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder
Here are some of the common warning signs that suggest a person may be suffering from binge eating disorder.
- Eats large amounts of food when not physically hungry.
- Eats much more rapidly than normal.
- Eats until the point of feeling uncomfortably full.
- Often eats alone because of shame or embarrassment.
- Has feelings of depression, disgust or guilt after eating.
- Has a history of marked weight fluctuations.
EDNOS can encompass any different number of combinations of eating disorder symptoms or behaviors. Those who exhibit many or some of the criteria of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, without meeting the full diagnostic requirements of those specific diseases, may be diagnosed with EDNOS. This does not mean that EDNOS is not a “real” eating disorder, or that it is any less serious or dangerous than anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Those who are diagnosed with EDNOS suffer from the same underlying issues that fuel all eating disorders and are as likely to suffer from medical complications due to their disorder.
Warning Signs of EDNOS
- Experiences a combination of symptoms from one or more of the eating disorders listed above (anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder) but does not meet the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria for one of those specific diseases.
If anyone you know (including yourself) is exhibiting the warning signs of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, it is important to seek professional counseling as soon as possible. If untreated, the disorder will become part of a destructive cycle which can continue for years and may eventually lead to death. The Renfrew Center can help. Call us at 1-800-RENFREW or contact us here - it could be a lifeline to someone you know.