Recognising the Signs of an Eating Disorder

I have recently had some experience working with patients with eating disorders which has opened my eyes to just how challenging, and in some cases devastating this condition can be. So I was glad when Michelle Peterson from got in touch to write this article for Dietetically Speaking, as being able to identify these conditions is crucial in helping those who are suffering to seek the support they need as soon as possible.


(Image via Pixabay by cherylholt)

In the UK it has been reported that 725,000 people were effected by eating disorders in 2015 (89% of which occur in women), and in the US eating disorders will occur in about 20 million women and 10 million men in their lifetime. Unfortunately, due to the stigma Western society associates with eating disorders, many of these cases will go without treatment. If you feel that a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important that you seek help before their physical health is damaged. Here are some of the signs that someone you love has an eating disorder.


Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia is most commonly associated with vomiting in order to avoid weight loss. While this is certainly common, there are other forms of purging as well. Laxatives are the second most common form of purging food. People with bulimia will appear to eat normally, if not excessively, yet lose weight. You may notice them ducking into the bathroom after a meal or even be able to smell vomit on their breath. Bulimia not only has the consequences of reduced calorie intake but any consistent vomiting can affect the throat and teeth. You are also likely to notice a preoccupation with self-image or obsession with weight.


Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder is far less commonly discussed. In a society that is less than accepting of obese people, many will consider binge eating to be little more than a self-control issue. However, binge eating is just as much an eating disorder as anorexia or bulimia. People who suffer from binge eating disorder will frequently binge as a response to negative emotions. They will experience shame and guilt following an episode and will clearly exhibit signs of being out of control during an episode. The rapid weight gain that can be associated with this disorder will have negative health effects, just as losing weight rapidly would. If you suspect someone you know has a binge eating disorder, it is important that they receive treatment.


Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is likely the most commonly known eating disorder. It occurs when a person limits their calorie consumption to an unsustainable level and suffers rapid weight loss as a result. People with anorexia often experience poor self-image alongside depression. Anorexia can also be a form of self-punishment. The symptoms of anorexia include refusing to eat, consuming low or no calorie items such as celery and nothing else, or making excuses to skip meals. The weight loss will be noticeable as the disorder progresses. After a time, the person may find themselves incapable of eating large amounts of food due to a shrunken stomach. In severe cases, the person may only be able to consume liquids. The effects of starvation can be seen throughout the body. It is critical that people with anorexia receive treatment as soon as possible.

Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly. They are a mental illness that will not be cured by telling the person to just stop. Depending on the situation, these illnesses can be deadly or affect the health of a person in the long run. If you believe you are seeing signs of an eating disorder, don’t wait. Seek help immediately and prevent physical and mental long term harm.

Where to look for support:

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