Early Warning Signs of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often misunderstood and stigmatized but are more common than you might think. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 30 million people in the United States alone will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives – not counting eating disorder-related behaviors or beliefs like body dysmorphia that also cause distress. 

How often do you hear someone talk about their current diet, how they are unhappy with their body, or speak about an influencer or celebrity they are envious of for how in-shape they look? Conversations like this are sadly becoming as common as someone asking you, “How are you doing today?” While conversations like this are not innately unhealthy, there are unhelpful aspects to this mindset that can become problematic over time. 

What exactly is an eating disorder, and how can you recognize the symptoms? While the answers to these questions can take a while to answer, in this post, we’ll discuss the most common types of eating disorders and the warning signs to look out for. As a reminder, these are not ways to diagnose someone with an eating disorder. But, behaviors and beliefs can result in the development of an eating disorder. While there are several types of eating disorders, each one manifests in different ways for different people. Some of the most common eating disorders include: 

Anorexia Nervosa: This eating disorder is characterized by an obsessive fear of gaining weight and an extreme restriction of food intake.

Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is characterized by binge eating followed by purging through self-induced vomiting or other methods. 

Binge Eating Disorder: This disorder involves frequently eating large amounts of food in a short time, often to the point of discomfort. 

While the symptoms of each eating disorder can vary, there are common warning signs to look out for. These can include:

  • dramatic weight loss or weight gain
  • obsessive calorie-counting or food-tracking
  • preoccupation with body shape and weight
  • frequent comments about feeling fat or overweight
  • skipping meals or refusing to eat certain foods 
  • using laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics frequently 
  • hiding food or eating in secret
  • a hyperfixation on the healthiness of food
  • avoiding social situations that involve food.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a few or several of these symptoms, seeking help is important. Eating disorders can be life-threatening if left untreated, and they often require professional medical and psychological treatment. I hope to bring attention to how easily an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors can creep into our lives. Throughout my career, I have yet to meet someone who set out to develop an eating disorder. More often, the person has a positive motivation to create new habits or a new behavior that over time became an obsession. Or, another common way these develop is when someone is struggling to manage the different stressors in their life and the use of food – whether in excess, restriction, or both –  becomes a default way of managing their life until they feel helpless without it. 

Eating disorders are complex and often misunderstood, and may go undetected due to the diet culture we currently live in. Recognizing the signs can be the first step in seeking help. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for support. With the right treatment and support, recovery is possible.

If you or a loved one would like to find a safe space for support with a suspected eating disorder, read about my approach to counseling here or request an appointment with me at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.

About Calvin Burns

Calvin Burns, MA, LPC, LCDC-I, earned his BA in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University and earned his Master's in Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary. He specializes in disordered eating, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, parenting support, adolescents/emerging adults, and couples counseling. He brings unwavering hope to his clients, and firmly believes that people can change and their stories can be rewritten. He sees adolescents, young adults, adults, couples and families at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.

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