How do you identify if you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder? With such a cultural fixation on weight, food, and exercise, it’s not uncommon for girls and women to obsess over their bodies or their weight. While even a mild preoccupation with weight and appearance can be unhealthy, it is important to note the difference between this and a diagnosable eating disorder.
Below are some of the most common warning signs of Anorexia Nervosa, as outlined by the National Eating Disorders Association website (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org):
- Dramatic weight loss.
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.
- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).
- Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss.
- Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat.”
- Denial of hunger.
- Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
- Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
- Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.
- Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
- In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
Anorexia is often accompanied by anxiety and depression, so those are important warning signs to note as well. The drive to starve is unnatural and unhealthy, and is typically a sign of low self-esteem and lack of a sense of identity.
Anorexia occurs most commonly in young women, but does affect men and older adults as well. Adolescence is usually when the onset of Anorexia occurs, but any period of great change can trigger the illness in a susceptible individual, such as graduating from high school or college, relocating, going through a break-up or divorce, or losing a loved one.
Sometimes, warning signs can be hard to detect, especially at first. An individual with Anorexia may try to hide her illness. You might think she’s just on a diet, or making an attempt to “eat healthier.” But it’s important to remember that diets can lead to eating disorders-any fixation on food can become a dangerous obsession.
I recommend that any of my clients wanting to lose weight or change their eating habits first seek the professional guidance of an RD (Registered Dietitian) to ensure that they are monitored during their weight loss process. A Dietitian can help you to understand how proteins, carbohydrates, and fats work together in your body to keep you healthy and energized. It’s crucial to have the right combination of nutrients to keep our organs (and our moods!) happy and well.
If you’re concerned that a friend or family member may be suffering from Anorexia, or leaning in that direction, be a supportive friend. Remind him or her that you love them, and offer your support if they decide to reach out for help. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information or to find treatment professionals in your area.