Signs Of Eating Disorders — And How An Eating Disorder Counselor Can Help

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated February 04, 2020

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault


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While some may recognize the signs of an eating disorder and may recommend an eating disorder counselor, others may not know where to begin. This is especially true if someone is suffering from an eating disorder himself or herself.

According to the National Eating Disorders Organization, emotions, behaviors, and attitudes are centered on an individual's food decisions. This individual focuses on weight issues, as well as other mental-health-related issues.

What Causes Eating Disorders

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what causes an eating disorder. Some people mistakenly believe that an eating disorder is simply just a choice that someone makes. What they fail to acknowledge when they believe this is that an eating disorder is a mental health condition.

When someone sufferers from an eating disorder, it is because they have an underlying mental health challenge that is causing it. It could be that they are struggling with anxiety disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example. Some people that have eating disorders have lived through traumatic situations where they had very little control. Eating disorders are a way to feel like they have control over some part of their life.

Who Suffers From Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are common in teenagers with their being a higher percentage of girls over boys. Often, they have an inaccurate perception of their physical appearance. Girls might believe they are heavier than they are, and boys may be on a quest for a more muscular appearance. Because they have a distorted self-image regardless of what changes they make, they are unable to see the results.

While the majority of people might be teenagers, they aren't the only ones that suffer from eating disorders. It's possible for young children and the elderly to develop eating disorders as well.

Signs of Eating Disorders


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Most people are familiar with hearing about anorexia, but that's not the only type of eating disorder. There are actually three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is when a person starves themselves. They don't consume enough calories for what their body needs. Some signs/symptoms of anorexia nervosa are the following:

  • Refraining from eating;
  • Denial of hunger, skipping meals or making excuses for not eating
  • Maintaining a very low weight;
  • Overwhelming fears of weight gain, which leads to obsessions about preventing any and all weight gain;
  • Inability to see the damage of not eating and what it is doing to the body and brain;
  • Some elements of binge eating and purging;
  • Dizziness, fainting, fatigue, or seizures
  • Absence of menstrual cycle
  • Thinning hair, brittle nails, dehydration, low blood pressure, difficulty concentrating


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Binge eating

Binge eating is the opposite of anorexia nervosa. It consists of a person a lot more calories than what their body needs to survive and flourish. People that suffer from binge eating are usually obese or overweight. Signs of binge eating consists of:

  • The intake of very large portions of food at one time, often alone;
  • Thoughts of guilt and shame during a binge;
  • Feeling "out of control" while binge eating;
  • Eating when you're not feeling hungry;
  • Eating too much that you're uncomfortable;


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Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a similar to binge eating, but after the person eats, they purge their food by forcing themselves to throw up. This allows them to give the appearance that they are eating while still feeling like they have control over their food and won't gain weight. Bulimia nervosa signs/symptoms:

  • Obsession with not gaining weight;
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Eating to the point of feeling physically uncomfortable or even in pain
  • An individual who feels out of control while binge eating;
  • Self-esteem that is obsessively correlated to body image;

Other disorders

The above three are the most common eating disorders that people are diagnosed with. However, they aren't the only disorders that people could suffer from. Other disorders include things like:

  • Rumination disorder - The person consistently regurgitates food after they eat it. This is something that often occurs in young children or people that suffer from other intellectual disorders.
  • Restrictive food intake - This is when people avoid eating certain foods because of things like colors, smells, or textures.

While these aren't necessarily the same as other eating disorders it's still important to seek medical treatment.

Warning Signs of Eating or Body Image Disorders:

Many people that live with eating disorders are very good at hiding their behaviors. They know ways to make it look like they don't have a problem. And, if you question them about it, they aren't likely to be open with you. Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • excessive exercise
  • lack of emotion/flat affect
  • Weighing oneself repeatedly
  • frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • wearing baggy or layered clothing
  • constant complaining about being fat

If these disorders - and more - go untreated, the person with the eating disorder may suffer several medical complications or even death. In many ways, eating disorders are associated with anxiety and other mental health disorders.

How to prevent eating disorders

While there is no surefire way of preventing eating disorders there are some things you can do in order to try preventing future problems. The main thing you can do is talk to your children about healthy body image. Explain to them what can happen as a result of poor nutrition. Talk to them about healthy exercise and a balanced diet.

Getting Help From An Eating Disorder Counselor

The type of help that you need to recover from an eating disorder depends completely on how far the disorder has went. If a person has struggled with an eating disorder for too long they might need emergency care in order to get their physical health under control before treating the underlying cause of the disorder itself. There are times when hospitalization is necessary.


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But, it's important to remember that only treating the physical symptoms of an eating disorder is not going to help the person with long term recovery. Since it's a mental health disorder people with eating disorders need to be treated or else they will continue to struggle.

If you or someone you know needs help for an eating disorder, an eating disorder counselor can help you get on a tailored path that is the best for you. When a person suffers from an eating disorder, he or she may have a long recovery process through psychotherapy.

Different types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and more, can give the person suffering from an eating disorder recovery tools. An eating disorder counselor may encourage a client to engage in yoga, art, writing or other creative activities to help curb undereating or overeating. The most possible approach is tailored to each particular client.

Resources:

Types and Symptoms of Eating Disorders. NEDA.https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/types-symptoms-eating-disorders. Accessed May 3, 2017.

Eating and Food Issues. GoodTherapy.org.http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/eating-disorders. Accessed May 3, 2017.

HowTo Help With & Address Anxiety Disorders. BetterHelp.https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/anxiety/how-to-help-with-and-address-anxiety-disorders/. Accessed May 3, 2017.

BetterHelp.https://www.betterhelp.com/start/. Accessed May 5, 2017.


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