Eating Disorders: 10 Early Signs You Might Miss
Everyone knows of someone with an eating disorder. In the U.S., about 20 million women and 10 million men have eating disorders, which range from the more commonly known anorexia nervosa and bulimia to the lesser known binge eating and restrictive food intake disorder.
People often show subtle, early signs of a disorder that families and friends may be able to detect.
Eating disorder specialist Mary Tantillo offers 10 early signs to look for.
- Body insecurity: Negative or obsessive thoughts about body size or shape. Persistently worrying or complaining about being fat or needing to lose weight. Self-esteem overly related to body image.
- Excessive exercise: Obsessive about getting daily exercise. Exercises even when injured or sick.
- Fear of eating in front of others: Avoids situations where they would have to eat in front of others or in public.
- Vicarious pleasure in others’ eating: Prepares elaborate meals for others but rarely eats what they make.
- Puffy cheeks: Could be a sign of swollen salivary glands caused by gastric acid from vomiting.
- Excessively restricting foods: Considers certain foods or food groups completely off limits and/or no longer eat foods they used to love.
- Overconsumption of food: Frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food and a feeling of being out of control during these binge-eating episodes. Has a pattern of eating when not hungry and eating to the point of discomfort.
- Secretive eating: Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or finding wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.
- Rituals in eating: Obsessively cutting foods into small pieces, or arranging foods on the plate to appear as though food has been eaten.
- Isolation: Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
If someone you care about has changed their relationship with food, is skipping meals or making excuses for not eating, adopts an overly restrictive diet or focuses obsessively on healthy eating, please consider whether it’s an eating disorder. Express your concerns in a forthright, caring manner. Gently but firmly encourage the person to seek trained professional help. If it’s your child, talk to your pediatrician.
Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website to learn more about eating disorders and what you can do to help. Local resources include the Eating Disorders Recovery Center of Western NY, The Healing Connection Inc., and Golisano Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Program.
Mary Tantillo, Ph.D., professor of clinical nursing, University of Rochester School of Nursing, has been treating people with eating disorders for more than 30 years. She is also the founder, CEO and clinical director of the Healing Connection, and director of the Western New York Comprehensive Care Center for Eating Disorders.