Knowing the signs of an eating disorder can benefit you, or someone you care about. Approximately 10 million men and 20 million women in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders are among the most deadly of any mental health disorder, second only to opioid overdose. That’s why knowing the signs of an eating disorder, and seeking early intervention and treatment, are so important.
Signs of an eating disorder may be different than you expect
When most people hear the term “eating disorder,” they think of a malnourished young woman suffering from anorexia nervosa. While anorexia nervosa is indeed an eating disorder, there other eating disorders that are even more prevalent. These include bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), orthorexia, and compulsive exercising. For a complete list and more information on the different types, please go to this website.
Despite the stereotypes, eating disorders impact people of all genders, races, social classes and ages. Meanwhile, people often do not know that they have an eating disorder, so they may not know to mention it to their doctor. Research indicates that less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight,” so it’s understandable that eating disorders often go undiagnosed. This is why it’s so important to know the true signs of an eating disorder, since a person suffering from one may not look the way you expect.
One person dies from an eating disorder every 52 minutes, but unfortunately only 30% of the estimated number of people who have an eating disorder will seek treatment. Factors such as financial barriers, stigma, misconceptions, and the lack of access are why such a small percentage of people with an eating disorder will seek help.
Signs and symptoms of an eating disorder
If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from an eating disorder, review this list of common symptoms or signs:
- Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- Stomach cramps
- Menstrual irregularities
- Dizziness, especially upon standing
- Feeling cold all the time
- Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
- Fine hair on body (lugo)
- Muscle weakness
- Poor wound healing
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, no sugar etc.)
- Appears uncomfortable eating around others
- Skipping meals or restricting food
- Withdrawal from usual friends and social settings
- Frequent dieting
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
- Extreme mood swings
- Secret recurrent episodes of binge eating
- Purge behavior (bathroom use after food consumption)
- Expresses need to “burn off calories” after meals
If some of these signs and symptoms of an eating disorder apply to you or someone you love, please seek out a medical professional who can help. Check out our Nourish Program, which was specifically designed to help patients with eating disorders. The Registered Dietitian Nutritionists who are part of the Nourish team will work in partnership with your physician, therapist, and other health care providers to get you the help you need.