I want to tell you a secret. It’s actually quite challenging to identify if someone has an eating disorder. With all kinds of information readily available from all kinds of sources of all kinds of diets and health fads, and people trying all kinds of different eating habits, how do you figure out if someone has an actually harmful eating disorder? Fortunately, here are some solid guidelines.
Unfortunately, even though eating disorders affect both men and women, especially women are vulnerable beginning in their teenage years. According to National Eating Disorders Association woman are 66% more susceptible. Of all women in the United States, for example, 4% would have experienced bulimia, 4% would have experienced anorexia, and almost 3% would have suffered with binge eating. So, what is an eating disorder? How is it defined, and how would one know they are experiencing it, even mildly? Below are some considerations to help you to understand them and how you can overcome them.
What is an Eating Disorder?
“An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterized by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone’s life.”
Eating disorders are considered as constant or obsessive actions that disrupt one’s optimal eating behavior and nutritional intake. For example, constant questioning of body weight, shape, calories, and nutrition might be an indicator. Strictly scheduling or restricting certain food groups might be another. Some of the most common eating disorders include binge eating and bulimia nervosa. On the other hand, anorexia nervosa is a less common disease. Here are some typical disorders:
Binge eating disorder – It is associated with binge eating in which a person may feel a lack of self-control and marked distress over one’s eating. Most patients are obese or obese.
Bulimia nervosa – Is characterized by binge eating, which is followed by an overcompensating mechanism for it. It may include excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercises, and self-induced vomiting, etc.
Anorexia nervosa – Is characterized by a persistent and significant reduction in appetite, which leads to extremely low weight when checked against sex, age, and physical health. People with anorexia tend to see themselves as overweight even when they are severely malnourished.
Here are some of the subtler classifications to consider:
Emotional Eater – One who decides to eat when they’re happy, or others when they’re sad or stressed.
Unconscious Eater – When you see it, you just have to eat it!
Habitual Eater – Strictly only consuming the same food items, or food groups daily, over and over.
Critical Eaters – The one who has tried all kinds of diets and still hasn’t figured out which is best for them.
Sensual Eater – One who enjoys trying new food and enjoys it with little thought.
Energy Eater – Constantly trying to refuel due to high levels of physical energy expenditure.
How Is It Formed?
Although eating disorders are normally centered around body weight and eating behaviors, they are often more about self-expression (or lack of opportunity for self-expression from trauma) and emotional blockages than about food and eating. Women with eating disorders might use dieting or food in coping with excessive or chronic stress, or even in recovering from a relationship breakup. For some people, food becomes the ultimate source of joy, nurturing and comfort or even a way to release stress. On the other hand, losing weight may start as a way to get approval and attention of family, loved ones and friends. Eating disorders are not just diets. Rather they can be signs of emotional or mental issues within oneself that haven’t been resolved or directly processed.
Eating disorders happen in all kinds of ethnic and socioeconomic groups. They usually occur in females between the ages of 12 and 25. However, professional women in their late twenties up to forties and above are vulnerable and can also feel pressured by society or other sources to constantly question their body-image and weight.
Because of the complexity around the issue of approval, body image, sexuality, stress, the pursuit of happiness and other sensitive factors, a lot of women don’t take action for appropriate treatment or get help until many years later. Instead, they may simply turn to alcohol consumption, or weekly spa days. However, understand that these actions simply bury the unresolved issue even deeper. What are subtle signs one may have an eating disorder?
The following are the subtle signs one may have an eating disorder:
Poor body image – Negative thoughts or obsession about body size are a key factor. If one is obsessively monitoring fat or refusing to acknowledge positivity about their body, this may provide a clue. It is easy to fall prey to a negative body image given the ideal representation of the perfectly healthy bodies present in media today, however if someone’s entire, or majority of daily activity and thoughts are directed toward trying to ‘fix’ one’s body image one way or another, this could be a sign of a deeper issue.
Excessive exercising – Exercise is a necessary in achieving health. However, too much of it is a red flag. For some people who desire becoming of a certain physique or lose weight, exercising regularly is an effective way to accelerate these objectives. However, over-the-top workouts might go hand in hand with these disorders and lead to obsessive behavior, such as refusing to take rest days, exercising until injury, and even during injury. These may be a subtle signal that an eating disorder may be an arising issue.
Meal time triggers – Mealtime might trigger anxiety, or stress. Someone with the condition might say they are constantly prematurely full or they are allergic to certain food groups to avoid eating well. In other instances, one might refuse to eat anything that isn’t prepared in a certain way. Strict regimented eating patterns give a sense of control, however strong dislikes and likes can indicate that other emotional issues are at play. We all have our food preferences, but this should not be a source of stress or anxiety during mealtime. It should be a source of nutrition, calm and joy.
Fixating on safer options – Signs might include a restricted diet where foods that are deemed safe are eaten recurrently. Cutting out enjoyable food items or entire food groups is also considered a red flag. You might also see a person compulsively checking ingredient lists as well as nutrition labels or spending significant time stressing over what food item would be served at upcoming events.
3 Ways You Can Let Go of an Eating Disorder
- Allow yourself to ditch the scales. Chances are the temptation is too much to care about your weight when you own a pair of scales. Instead, switch to monitoring how you feel after each meal. If you focus on how you physically and emotionally feel after each meal and the amount of food that makes you feel satiated, then you will notice that at different days, your requirement for food will change. Constantly weighing yourself has very little to do with actual health. Rather monitoring how you feel on a qualitative level is much more beneficial long term, as it allows you to truly feel free and rally enjoy whatever calories you gain nourishment from.
- Allow yourself to wear clothes that are loose and comfortable instead of just body-hugging. Feeling and looking sexy are great, however, these are simply side-affects of being vibrantly healthy. I’m sure you’ve seen women who are super-model-skinny, but are breathless while a climbing a flight of stairs, or can’t even run a short sprint. That’s not health. That’s illness. Wearing loose clothes, allows your body to breathe and releases your unnecessary attachment with how you look. Instead, it allows you to focus on how you feel, and what you can do.
- Let go or people who are constant fashionistas. Tidy grooming, dressing to impress and looking stylish are great, however people who are excessive about it most definitely are doing it at that level because there are other, deeper issues at play. Friends, family and loved ones who are constantly scrutinizing bodies and judging will never know real health. They will always find something wrong with others, and hence, themselves. Distancing yourself from those kind of single-minded people will allow your focus, attention, and energies toward greater possibilities and much heathier overall life-choices.
As shown above, there are numerous well-defined symptoms to look for when identifying eating disorders. More challenging however, it is much less obvious on a subtle level in identifying what eating disorders are like. When I faced challenges with my eating disorder, I always considered myself physically health. I was. I was brutally strong, yet, mentally and emotionally I was a mess and falling apart. In essence, identifying health goes way past nutritional and physical. If the body is not truly nutritionally balanced, the mental and emotional bodies in each of us will be out of balance, and our decisions, emotions, responses and reactions in our daily lives will bring suffering.
In identifying mild eating disorders, understand that it’s perfectly fine to fit into any of the descriptions above, as long as one is open to change, adaptation and conscious decisions. The moment our eating decisions become beyond one’s control and willpower, that is when ill-health can blossom.