Recognizing Eating Disorders

Terms like “anorexia” and “bulimia” are thrown around pretty commonly, but few people actually know the extent of these disorders or the damage that they cause. Eating disorders are described as an unhealthy relationship with food. Some people diet excessively, starve themselves, purge after eating, or binge eat. Many people also use eating as a way to feel like they are in control of their lives. Eating disorders usually start or are directly correlated with other psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, or substance abuse.

Eating disorders do affect men, but are much more common in women and teen girls. These disorders are serious and once control is lost, they can completely take over your life. The sooner you get help, the better, because if left untreated serious health issues can result, and in some cases even death. The problem with quickly identifying an eating disorder is that people are generally extremely concerned with hiding it. The disorder has usually already taken a long toll before you notice any dramatic physical effects. Being educated can make all the difference in the world for someone you love who is suffering from an eating disorder. Hopefully this information can help you to recognize the signs sooner rather than later.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is the disorder in which people starve themselves in an attempt to lose weight. They engage in excessive dieting, exercise, and will often stop eating all together. No matter how thin they become, they still see themselves as overweight. There are many people who go through bouts of crash dieting, excessive exercising, and not eating. It’s important to note that these are generally temporary and the person is usually fine. The problem arises when the psychological part kicks in. A person with actual anorexia nervosa suffers from a severe mental condition that causes them to see themselves as “fat” no matter how thin they become. On top of that, the condition makes them feel as if they have no control over any aspect of their lives; except for what they do (or do not) eat.

Signs to Watch For:

• Significant weight loss

• Refusing to eat

• Sudden infatuation with diet, calories, exercise, etc.

• Skipping meals or refusing to eat in public

• Excessive exercising

• Constant comments about their appearance or feeling “fat”

• Suddenly wearing loose clothing (in an attempt to hide the weight loss)

• Constant complaints about stomach pains

• Complete denial that there is a problem and even angry responses when the issue is brought up

Bulimia Nervosa

Also known as the “binge and purge” disorder, those suffering from bulimia go through vicious cycles of overeating and then purge or vomit as a way to compensate for it. This disorder can spiral out of control very quickly as the person begins to think that it’s “easy” to undo their overeating. They figure they can drown their emotions in food and then purge it back up so as not to suffer any effects to their weight.

The problem with this is that by purging every time they eat, they are not allowing their bodies to absorb the essential nutrients that it needs to grow and function. Also, each time that they purge, stomach acid is being forced through their esophagus which can cause major damage over time. Some of the major effects of bulimia can include abnormal heart rhythms, kidney problems, and gastro esophageal reflux.

Signs to Watch For:

• Large amounts of food vanishing or constantly finding empty wrappers; both are signs of bingeing

• Trips to the restroom after each meal and demanding to go alone

• Signs of vomiting such as hearing sounds or smells of vomit

• Finding laxatives or diuretics in excessive amounts in their belongings

• Skipping meals or refusing to eat in public

• Constant complaints about being “fat”

• Excessive exercise

• Always using gum, mints, mouthwash, or anything else to mask the smell of vomit

• Scarred knuckles; this appears after repeatedly using their finger to induce purging

Binge Eating

Binge eating is all about a loss of control. Those suffering from it feel as though everything in their life has come crashing down and the only thing that makes them feel better is to eat. In order to be characterized as binge eating, the overeating must be completely out of control. The person doesn’t just eat too much when they’ve had a bad day; they regularly overeat and the side effects are evident in significant weight gain.

Signs to Watch For:

• Food disappearing in large quantities and finding excessive amounts of food wrappers hidden are both signs of bingeing

• Hoarding food as if they are afraid it will disappear or tending to hide food in strange places

• Wearing loose clothing to try and hide the weight gain

• Constantly dieting and even exercising but generally never lose weight

• Skipping meals or refusing to eat in public as a way to deny that they have a problem

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