You think eating disorders are way out of your reach? Think again. Eating too less or too much may be a problem. Feeling ashamed of eating around people, obsessing over weight loss, storing food to binge on, self-induced vomiting, being depressed over your appearance, feeling cold even when hot, dehydration - are some of the symptoms hinting at an eating disorder.
Do you have an eating disorder?
For many of us, food is not just a means of survival, but a thing that nourishes us, comforts us, and helps bring friends and families together. Food can truly fulfill our lives. But sometimes our relationship with food can turn into a very serious problem; for some, it can lead to an eating disorder. Below, is a simple quiz to detect if you may be at risk for an eating disorder. Remember, this is not a clinical diagnostic tool but a self-assessment.
- Are you currently experiencing dramatic weight loss? YES/NO
- Have you recently been eating large portions of food in short durations? YES/NO
- Have you cut down drastically on certain types of foods, like carbohydrates or dairy products? YES/NO
- Are you using laxatives or diuretics to lose weight? YES/NO
- Do you spend a lot of time in front of the mirror worrying about your weight and figure? YES/NO
- Are you terribly afraid of being fat or gaining weight? YES/NO
- Do you spend obsessive amounts of time on food preparation, cooking, and getting the right kinds of food? YES/NO
- Do you often worry about public perception of your figure? YES/NO
- Do you prefer to eat in private rather than sit at family meals or with friends? YES/NO
- Have you suddenly decided on heavy exercising or other physical activities? YES/NO
- Are you uncomfortable socializing these days? Do you prefer being by yourself? YES/NO
- Have you recently been feeling low about your figure and weight? Are you more prone to moodiness and irritability? YES/NO
If you answered “YES” to more than half of these questions, you may want to check in with your healthcare provider to discuss your risks of having an eating disorder.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders can affect both men and women, and can lead to serious physical and psychological problems. Common eating disorders include:
- Anorexia Nervosa: Extreme food and calorie restriction
- Bulimia Nervosa: Binge eating followed by purging
- Binge eating disorder: Binging without subsequent purging
- Purging disorder: Purging without binging
- Night eating syndrome: Eating most of the day’s calories at night
Eating disorders can manifest as physical, psychological, or behavioral signs and symptoms. If you think a friend or family member is at risk for an eating disorder, connect them to medical help as soon as possible. Early intervention can stop the disorder from progressing quickly and severely. While each eating disorder has its own characteristics, there are common symptoms to be aware of:
- Continuous dieting: Having an obsessive focus on calories, macronutrients, and specific food groups. This may include excessive fasting, skipping meals on a daily basis, or making excuses for not eating, like feeling sick or nauseous. The person may stick to only one type of diet, particularly one that avoids specific food groups, or start replacing solid food with liquids, like diet drinks, or protein or vegan shakes.
- Binge eating: Consuming excessive amounts of food at one sitting. The person may also be secretly hoarding food.
- Eating in private: People with eating disorders often feel ashamed of eating in public. Teenagers may skip out on a family meal, disappearing with their plates to eat in their own rooms. They will often give other excuses for this behavior.
- Vomiting and use of laxatives: Indulging in self-induced vomiting or frequent use of laxatives to quickly rid the body of any food consumed. Appetite suppressants may also be used to ward off hunger pangs.
- Obsession with exercise and physical activity: Continuously engaging in hard, strenuous exercises, even when the person is sick or injured.
- Changes in food preference: A sudden avoidance of a certain type of food, usually explained as a change in taste.
- Secretive behavior: The person may lie about their eating patterns. One may find uneaten food that’s been hidden.
- Sudden interest in food-related topics: Watch for obsessive list-making when it comes to things like buying groceries or cooking, or a sudden interest in purchasing diet and cookbooks and studying nutritional guides.
- Obsessive focus on the physical body: Spending time on the scale or in front of the mirror multiple times per day.
- Social withdrawal: Withdrawing from friends and family and refusing to participate in activities previously enjoyed.
- Obsessive preoccupation with body weight, shape, and size.
- Unnatural fear of gaining weight.
- Preoccupied with food-related activities like preparation and cooking.
- Negative body image. The person does not feel satisfied with their physical appearance.
- Misperception of body image. The person may feel that they are overweight when they are not.
- Anxiety about food and mealtimes.
- Irritable and moody
- Lack of self-esteem.
- Depression and feelings of sadness and loneliness.
- Sudden or rapid weight gain or loss.
- Heightened sensitivity to the cold (due to rapid weight loss). Feeling cold even in warm temperatures.
- Frequent dizzy spells and fainting fits.
- Chronic fatigue and low energy.
- Frequent vomiting – could be due to dehydration.
- Disturbance or stoppage of menstruation in women.
If you observe several of these signs and symptoms in a loved one, do not hesitate to talk to them openly about it. Be firm but comforting. Make sure they receive medical care as soon as possible — if not dealt with early in its development, an eating disorder can lead to severe and lifelong physical and psychological complications.