According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating involve strong emotions and unhealthy behaviors regarding food and weight, and they can be life threatening. Learn these disorders' warning signs so you can get yourself or someone you care about help as soon as possible. (Find out if you're at risk for an eating disorder)
Diagnosing an eating disorder begins by determining the difference between a healthy concern about nutrition and an obsession. Someone who is working toward a healthy body will be focused on diet and exercise, but will remain flexible. For someone with an eating disorder, something as little as an unhealthy snack can cause extreme anxiety. Healthy individuals take time to plan fitness and nutrition, while those with a disorder make fitness a preoccupation throughout most of the day. A warning sign of an eating disorder is having thoughts about diet and exercise that affect everyday life, including work and school.
A number of red flags may appear when it's time to eat. These include:
- Avoiding eating with others and social situations that involve food
- Making excuses for not eating, including having a big meal previously
- Unusual eating behavior like cutting food into tiny bites or pushing it around on the plate
- Disappearing to the bathroom after a meal
An individual who has an eating disorder may also take a large amount of laxatives and diet pills. In the case of bulimia or binge eating disorder, the person may eat in secret and hide high-calorie foods.
One of the biggest physical signs of an eating disorder is a sudden and dramatic weight gain or loss. An individual with an eating disorder may attempt to hide this by wearing layers or loose clothing. Other physical symptoms include lightheadedness, sometimes to the point of fainting, fatigue, headaches, and trouble concentrating.
If you believe that you or a loved one has an eating disorder, get help by calling the National Eating Disorder Association's confidential hotline at (800) 931-2237.
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