Signs of an Eating Disorder and How to Find Treatment

Krystal Clark

| 3 min read

Woman comforting an emotional young teenage girl sitting
Every 62 minutes someone dies from an eating disorder. It’s a psychological condition that affects more than 30 million Americans across every age, gender and socioeconomic group. Eating disorders have a higher mortality rate than any other mental illness, making them a life-threatening epidemic. The most prominent eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-Eating Disorder. Anorexia is characterized by food deprivation, over-exercising and/or relying on laxatives/supplements to achieve weight loss. Bulimia involves compulsive overeating followed by purging or over-exercising. Binge-Eating Disorder is when one frequently consumes large quantities of food in a short period of time.

Common Signs of an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are marked by unhealthy behaviors often driven by an emotional or mental component. Even though every person is different, there are common signs associated with each:
  • Anorexia Nervosa: Individuals with this disorder have an intense fear of gaining weight. They can be irrational, impulsive and have a distorted view of their own bodies. They may follow a dangerously low-calorie diet or avoid eating altogether. A person can become extremely frail, appearing weak and emaciated. They may also exhibit thinning hair, brittle nails, and lanugo (fine hair that covers the entire body).
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is characterized by binge-eating episodes followed by a compensatory behavior. After overeating, the person will attempt to avoid weight gain by expelling food through vomiting or laxatives. They may also engage in fasting or excessive exercise to burn off calories. This can lead to dehydration, rotting teeth, constant anxiety, and weight fluctuations.
  • Binge-Eating Disorder: A binge-eater struggles with compulsory behavior, particularly when it comes to food. They rapidly ingest each meal, no matter how full or uncomfortable they feel. A person may eat in a two-hour period, what most would consume in two days. Due to this, they may isolate themselves and eat in secret. A binge episode can leave one feeling depressed, embarrassed or ashamed.

approaching someone with an eating disorder

When approaching someone about an eating disorder, it’s important to be gentle yet firm. Openly discuss your concerns without judging their behavior. This can cause a person to become defensive and disengage. Clearly express that you’re coming from a place of love and only have their best interests at heart. While you may be eager for them to seek treatment, it’s crucial they take the first step. They must acknowledge the problem and want it for themselves.

finding treatment for an eating disorder

Treatment is a collaborative effort that involves personal and professional support. The first step is talking to a physician to receive a diagnosis. Depending on the type of disorder and its severity, they could recommend in-patient or out-patient care. Both will involve psychological and nutritional counseling to change how the person thinks and interacts with food. If you have further questions or need assistance, please call the mental health or behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card to reach a qualified mental health professional. For more info about eating disorders and available treatment:
Photo credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz
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