Although you may think that eating disorders affect mostly teenage girls and models, the fact is, many people of different ages and from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds grapple with their relationship with food. Eating disorders are complex medical and psychological illnesses which can be life-threatening without proper treatment and care.
At Apex Medical Center, our staff of highly trained experts know that an eating disorder isn’t something you or someone you love can “just get over.” It’s a deeply seated psychiatric and medical problem requiring expert care. We know that recognizing the more subtle signs of an eating disorder can be difficult, too, and that treatment of such a multi-faceted problem requires a multi-pronged approach.
The five types of eating disorders
The American Psychiatric Association classifies eating disorders into five types:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
- Other specified feeding or eating disorders
Since each type of disorder has specific symptoms, one list of what to look for if you suspect your loved one has an eating disorder can’t cover them all. There are, however, some signs that tend to appear in anyone with an eating disorder, and some of them aren’t obvious.
1. Food rules
If someone you care about seems to have a long list of rules around food and eating, it could be related to an eating disorder. For example, if they only eat from certain dishes, or at very specific times, it could be associated with a disorder.
2. Weight changes and obsessions
Sudden weight loss or weight gain could be due to an eating disorder. Or, a steady decrease in weight may be as well, particularly if there’s no apparent reason for the continued weight loss.
A person with an eating disorder may also seem to pay an unusual amount of attention to their weight and appearance. You might notice comments like, “I’m so fat because I have no self-control” when they talk about themselves.
3. A tendency toward perfectionism
People with eating disorders often also have a strong tendency toward perfectionism. They need things to be just right, to succeed in their endeavors. Athletes, especially female athletes, are at a greater risk of developing an eating disorder compared to the general population. They are also extremely focused on being outstanding in their sport.
4. Focus on diet and exercise
Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is focused on diet and exercise, and indeed, good nutrition and sufficient physical activity are necessary for a healthy life -- and that’s what can make it difficult to see a strong focus on these things as a sign of an eating disorder. However, if your loved one feels like they need to exercise extra in order to “pay for” a meal, or if they seem to be following a very strict diet all of the time, it could be due to an eating disorder.
5. An obsession with food
Sometimes an eating disorder can bring about a hobby that may seem to contradict the illness. For example, sometimes people with an eating disorder enjoy cooking large, elaborate meals for friends and family. Others collect cookbooks. Essentially, a person with an eating disorder may find themselves obsessed with food.
Each of the five types of eating disorders is a complex condition, requiring careful treatment. Patients don’t simply need to gain or lose weight, although that may be part of the treatment plan. Because eating disorders are psychiatric problems, patients may need on-going therapy in order to understand what’s happening, as well as to learn new coping behaviors.
If you suspect you or your loved one may have an eating disorder, schedule an appointment at Apex Medical Center. Our staff is always happy to answer your questions.