It is no surprise that eating disorders are prevalent in our society today. Millions of people suffer from eating disorders throughout the year, but many go unnoticed and even more untreated. Some do not know if their own problems should be classified as serious, and others convince themselves that their issues are less serious than they really are, or rationalise their actions. Hence, as their friends and family, it is crucial for us to learn how to recognise signs of eating disorders, so that we can help our loved ones seek help as soon as possible.
Here are some potential signs:
1. Social isolation and secrecy
The behaviours associated with eating disorders are often compulsive and done alone. These include purging or binge eating. A person who is suffering from an eating disorder may appear to have normal eating habits in front of others, and then engage in purging or binging when they are alone. Since these behaviours are rather time-consuming, people who struggle with eating disorders also tend to keep to themselves by turning down offers to go out, especially when the outing involves eating. As a result, they have a tendency to become increasingly isolated and withdrawn.
2. Defensive and angry behaviour
People struggling with eating disorders are committed to their disorders; that is, they want to maintain the behaviours and thoughts that fuel them. When others around them notice their behaviours and express their worry, they will become defensive, and might even lash out. Many of them deny the things their friends and family notice, while others argue that it is not as serious as it looks.
3. Distorted perceptions of the real and unreal
Those with eating disorders often have vastly different opinions on their eating habits, body image and weight from others around them.
4. Anxious, depressed or irritable behaviour
A person who engages in behaviours associated with eating disorders, such as cutting calories, exercising too much, or purging could become afraid of getting caught, and might become angry at those who express concern for them. They may lash out against loved ones, calling them overly controlling or suspicious. Not eating enough can itself lead to irritable behaviour.
People who suffer from eating disorders are often also depressed. They could have difficulty sleeping, or lose interest in activities that they used to find enjoyable. Others may feel helpless and lose hope. Such negative thoughts can be a result of feeling stuck in a vicious cycle that they know is harmful to them.
5. Secrecy with regard to their weight loss
Those who suffer from anorexia often try to hide their weight loss by wearing loose-fitting clothes and shifting their food around on their plate without eating. Others may chew on their food but spit it out. For females, they may lose their periods as menstrual hormones are stored in fat cells, and food containing fat is usually removed from the diet altogether.
6. Drastic increase in expenditure on food and/or secret hoarding of food
For those who binge eat, their expenditure on food will increase significantly, and they are likely to hoard their food in secret places. Those who purge try to mask the acrid smell of vomit with breath mints or mouthwash. The finger they bite on to make themselves vomit could also be scarred from repeated biting, and dental problems due to the acid found in vomit could also result.
Recognising these signs is vital, as eating disorders are harmful for the physical and mental health of the sufferers. It is important for loved ones to offer support and help them. If you feel that a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, try to express your concern sincerely and without harsh emotions. Encourage them to seek help by showing them what help is available and supporting them all the way.
Source material from Psychology Today