The emotional impact of witnessing your loved one battle a dangerous eating disorder is much the same as if they were suffering from any other debilitating condition. Feelings of guilt, anger, sorrow, confusion, frustration and fear are common as you watch the disorder take hold.
People struggle to comprehend how or why someone would develop maladaptive eating habits in the first place. But behind every eating disorder is a myriad of potential underlying causes, factors and complications. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorder and anxiety disorders all commonly co-occur with eating disorders.
Learn to recognize the warning signs that a loved one might be dealing with an eating disorder.
What is an Eating Disorder?
When someone experiences a severe and ongoing disturbance in eating behaviors it is referred to as an eating disorder. In some cases, an obsessive interest in body weight, shape, and food itself can contribute to the eating disorder.
The three most common types of eating disorders include:
- Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia is a serious mental health disorder that involves restricting caloric intake to the point of starvation.
- Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia involves consuming excessive amounts of food immediately followed by purging, such as vomiting the food back up.
- Binge Eating Disorder. Binge eating features excessive eating, but without the purging.
Eating disorders are treated through psychotherapy, including dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.
Eating Disorder Signs
There are some red flags that might indicate that a loved one is engaging in disordered eating. Consider these four warning signs:
- Odd behaviors at mealtime. If you notice a pattern developing that seems unusual or different for that person, it is best to pay close attention. These unusual behaviors might include:
- Eating enormous amounts of food and then rushing off to the bathroom
- Continually skipping meals
- Picking at the food while consuming very little
- Restricting food choices to a small number of items
- Insisting on eating alone in their bedroom
- Obsessed with weight. Some people may be influenced by social media or celebrities and are desperate to achieve the “perfect” body. Signs of this obsession might include:
- Weighing themselves several times a day
- Stating that they are “fat” when they are not overweight. This is a sign of body dysmorphia, a mental health disorder
- Fixating on social media influencers and comparing themselves to these individuals
- Obsessed with burning it off. Someone with an eating disorder will be obsessed with counting calories. They may choose a number of ways to get rid of the food calories, including:
- Purging by vomiting the food soon after meals
- Over-exercising to burn off the calories
- Abusing laxatives, diuretics, or herbal supplements
- Dramatic weight loss or gain. One of the most common warning signs of an eating disorder is extreme weight loss. Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous eating disorder that can result in death. However, with a binge eating disorder, weight gain is likely to result.
As anyone suffering from an eating disorder can attest, it is very difficult to get oneself back to healthy, normal eating patterns once the disorder has become entrenched. Because eating disorders are so diverse, and the roots of each type of eating disorder so complex, a specialized treatment provider who has knowledge and experience in treating eating disorders is critical to recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, and provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle – “everything for recovery” – reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.