So far we have dispelled the myth that a person with an eating disorder must be drastically over or underweight. So let’s look at some of the warning signs that you may read about on this site. This is not an exhaustive list and is intended to act as a tool for early detection when the person isn’t yet able to comprehend the full impact of their disease. People suffering from different types of eating disorders may display different warning signs and these signs may also be attributed to other mental health disorders. Nonetheless, these should not be ignored.
For parents, it is important that I tell you that not detecting an eating disorder is NOT a failure. Eating disorders are an incredibly secretive illness and often will go undetected. Providing your child with love and a safe place to come to ask for help are sometimes all you can do. Recovery works best when the person is asking for help.
Physical Signs and Implications
- Sudden or large changes in body weight.
- Dental health issues such as tooth decay, brittle teeth, teeth getting smaller (sugar and purging can have very extreme effects on dental health).
- A poor immune system, always being sick or having throat infections or the latest cold and flu.
- Hair thinning or falling out.
- Severe tiredness or feeling faint and weak and unable to engage in typical daily activities.
- Irregular sleep patterns.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Medical concerns such as kidney failure, heart irregularities, or osteoporosis.
- Gastrointestinal problems.
- Regular food poisoning.
Emotional Signs and Implications
- Spells of depression and low mood.
- Self-hate and negative self-talk.
- Anxiety, especially around meal-times.
- Severe mood swings. Especially sudden outbursts that seem to be out of the blue.
- Lack of interest in things the person used to find fulfilling.
- Very low self-esteem.
Social/Functional Signs and Implications
- Isolation and pulling away from social contact.
- Resistance to attending social occasions, especially meals.
- Change in relationship such that the person seems to be pushing you away. Constantly cancelling plans or attempts to have the house to themselves frequently.
- The person is constantly MIA (missing in action) or unavailable to be contacted. This is a highly secretive disease.
- Repeated absence from work or school.
Behavioral Signs and Implications
- Reluctance to eat in front of others, having excuses all the time that they have already eaten or are not hungry.
- Lack of flexibility around meal times and menu.
- Extreme fear of the health implications of certain foods.
- Hiding food in handbags, room, hiding spaces.
- Constant talk of food and weight.
- Obsession with media relating to food or weight. Scrolling through pictures of food and menus or obsessing over the latest fad diet.
- Unexplained repeated loss of food from communal fridges or storage areas.
- Pattern of going to the bathroom during or directly after meals.
- Pattern of attempting to have ‘alone time’ directly after meals.
Note these are warning signs that can indicate a person requires help. The help is not about eliminating these symptoms but to provide the person with choices that enable them to live a fuller, happier life. Recovery is not the elimination of symptoms. It is a transformation process that can really enhance the persons life and their contribution to society. You can read more on recovery here and please subscribe to my blog for stories of real life recovery in action.