These behaviors and attitudes may indicate that someone you know has an eating disorder.

Eating disorders affect millions of people in the United States. With our nation’s obsession over weight, how do you know when regular dieting or exercising turns into an abnormal relationship with food and body image?

Not just about weight and food, eating disorders are connected to emotions, attitudes and behaviors and can have serious psychological and physical consequences. The sooner an eating disorder is identified and treated, the easier it is for a person to recover. If left unchecked, eating disorders can cause life-long problems or can even be life-threatening.

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“Eating disorders are often very difficult to identify even by medical professionals. They can have huge implications to one’s health leading to early development of osteoporosis, liver and renal dysfunction, anemia, and even cardiovascular disease.”

Charles E. DeDeaux, Jr., MD, Internal Medicine

The most common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Not everyone with an eating disorder will have the same symptoms or exhibit the same patterns of behavior but here are a few red flags that may indicate something is wrong.

The person is:
  • Skipping meals
  • Not eating in front of other people
  • Eating very small amounts of food
  • Chewing food but spitting it out before swallowing
  • Often using an excuse not to eat
  • No longer eating foods he or she used to love
  • Only eating a few specific foods
  • Fixated on how healthy the food he or she eats is
  • Constantly talking about food, calories or weight
  • Reading food labels obsessively
  • Disappearing from the table shortly after eating
  • Gorging on food, usually when no one is watching
  • Exercising excessively
  • Intensely fearful of gaining weight
  • Worried about being fat even when he or she is not
  • Rapidly losing or gaining weight
  • Wearing baggy clothes
  • Spending a lot of time in front of a mirror, criticizing aspects of his or her body
  • Connecting body image to self-worth

If you are worried about the eating behaviors or attitudes of someone you know, it’s important to express your concerns in a supportive way. Don’t place blame or try to provide simple solutions. Rather, list your concerns and encourage the person to seek professional help. Remind him or her that you are there to provide support.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 6, 2018

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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