We know approximately four percent of adults and three percent of teenagers are affected by eating disorders, but most do not receive treatment.
Because the community doesn’t know what to look for. School personnel, friends, family and even health professionals often miss the signs.
Even though eating disorders is a common problem and there is a lot of online resources, if you don’t know what to look for, it becomes a very secretive problem that’s easily hidden, causing depression and severe problems where the illness if already advanced.
Like all illnesses, the longer an eating disorder goes on, the more difficult it is to treat it, the higher the rate of relapse and the worse the physical and mental consequences.
The good news is that someone who struggles with disordered eating or body image issues is not fated to develop a full-blown eating disorder. There are signs along the way that, if caught and treated early, could make all the difference.
7 Helpful Signs of a Possible Eating Disorder:
The presence of one or more of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean that an eating disorder is looming, but it does represent a red flag calling for extra awareness.
1. Control over food – he or she becomes inordinately upset when unable to control a situation related to food. For example, if a restaurant isn’t serving the meal they planned to order or dinner plans change suddenly.
2. Exercise – he or she becomes anxious or upset if they cannot exercise or increases an exercise regimen or physical activity without also increasing caloric intake.
3. Energy – he or she seems to have less energy, less vivacious and less interest in the activities they once loved. Seems “down” all the time. Alternatively, he or she has become super(wo)man, taking on all sorts of responsibilities and activities, overexerting themselves. This may or may not be accompanied by perfectionism.
4. Odd behaviors during and after meals – he or she makes frequent excuses to use the bathroom after a meal or refuses to eat in anyone else presence. They engages in strange rituals with food, such as cutting it into small pieces or eating things in a certain orders.
5. Meal preparation – he or she becomes unusually interested in cooking, but might not actually be eating the meals that are prepared. Makes one’s own “safer” meals instead of eating what the family is eating.
6. Weight concerns – he or she expresses concern about body shape or weight or a desire to lose weight or look different. Talks excessively about food and healthy or “clean” eating. Talks about dieting or is actively on a diet.
7. Mood – he or she appears more depressed, anxious, irritable or fatigued than normal. A note about mood, particularly with teenagers: Almost all teenagers experience mood fluctuations during adolescence. However, depression and anxiety are notoriously accompanied with eating disorders. It is always important to monitor a teen’s mental health, especially if you have concerns about their eating patterns.
The power of Community
It’s continuously recorded that the simple act of admitting you have a problem or struggle is half the battle. There are help groups, community support and countless ways to provide assurance you’re not alone and can gather tremendous wisdom by joining a collective circle. In most addictions, hurts, habits and hangups, we only suffer when we isolate and stay in silence.
The Atlantic did an intriguing interview on how one young woman used the community power of Instagram to find healing and share her message of hope to others. You can read the article here.
Stress and Trauma
Our environment can provide clues that someone is struggling. Do they have known stressors? Has the family undergone a change or tragedy? Has there been a personal trauma? Is he or she being bullied (especially about weight or body shape)? Are they inordinately anxious about school and grades?
If the answer is “yes” to any of the above, this is the time to be watchful. Many people have a genetic predisposition to eating disorders where stress, trauma and anxiety make the perfect fire to awaken an eating disorder into an inferno problem.
If you suspect an eating disorder, don’t panic and don’t immediately approach the person with your concerns. Raising undue attention to the problem can only drive them further into hiding and you need to be well prepared to create a safe space for discussion. Research eating disorders and body image issues on sites. Talk to a trusted health professional, such as a physician, pediatrician or a therapist.
Most importantly, start the conversation by gently expressing your concerns and offering compassionate assistance. Remind them that you are always available to talk. And let them know that you love them.
If eating disorders threatens you or someone you love, please do reach out to me for a no-cost consultation on how we can find you solutions.
To your good mental health,