How to Spot an Eating Disorder

How to Spot an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are common in the United States. But they're hard to identify and tough to fix.

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"Eating disorders are serious conditions that ... negatively impact your health, emotions and ability to function in important areas of life," said Dr. Asim Shah.

Moreover, "more people die of an eating disorder than of any other psychiatric disorder," Shah added.

He is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

It's estimated that 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder -- such as anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating -- at some point in their life.

One of them could be a friend or loved one -- someone who would benefit from your support and understanding, Shah said.

Treatment usually takes time, and those struggling with one of these conditions shouldn't be judged or made to feel guilty, he added.

"One of the most important ways you can help is to offer your support and to act as a listening ear if they want to talk about what they are going through," Shah said. "It is especially important to have the support of friends and family."

What should you look for?

Shah shared the following warning signs:

  • Anorexia: Weight loss is one of the most obvious signs of anorexia. But even when they're drastically underweight, anorexics may still think they're too heavy. Some people with anorexia try to hide their thinness beneath layers of baggy clothes. They may eat just one small meal, always say they aren't hungry or avoid starchy foods or carbohydrates. They may also avoid social situations, and exercise excessively. Anorexia can lead to dizziness, concentration problems, pale or dry skin, trouble sleeping, weak muscles and thin hair. Girls and women with anorexia may also stop menstruating.
  • Bulimia: People with bulimia are always dieting and hiding food. They may eat to the point of discomfort but only when no one is watching. After overeating, people with bulimia force themselves to throw up, usually by putting their fingers down their throat. Marks on the back of their hands may indicate bulimia. Routinely using laxatives or going to the bathroom right after eating are also signs of bulimia.
  • Binge-eating: Binge-eaters consume large amounts of food very quickly, stopping only when they are uncomfortably full. When bingeing, they tend to feel out of control. Binge-eating is hard to identify because it may happen only occasionally. This behavior can continue for a long period of time before anyone notices.
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Does one of these descriptions apply to someone you know? If so, gently suggest that she or he get help from a qualified health-care professional, Shah suggested.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.


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