You’ve very likely heard of eating disorders, but you might not be aware of the signs that someone you know has an eating disorder. The problem is nothing to joke about and chances are you might even know someone who suffers. I’ve studied eating disorders extensively and feel it’s important to know what symptoms to look for. After all, recognizing the signs that someone you know has an eating disorder could be the difference between life and death.
1. Refusal to Eat
We’ve all had a friend who just never seems to eat, but you may not be aware that it could indicate a problem. I’ve known people who sit through a meal and only take a couple of nibbles. Unfortunately, this could mean your friend has anorexia nervosa, one of the most common types of eating disorders. If you know someone who claims she’s never hungry or she picks at her food without actually eating any of it, she may have an eating disorder. One of the top signs that someone you know has an eating disorder is strange behavior at mealtime.
2. Secret Eating
We’ve all stashed food from family or roommates that we don’t want to share, but eating in secret could indicate bulimia nervosa, which is a harder to recognize eating disorder because people with the condition aren’t always super thin and don’t often refuse a meal. With bulimia, a person binge eats thousands of calories in one sitting, and then purges it to prevent weight gain. If you catch someone you know shoving an entire cake into her mouth in the dark or you have a friend who hits several drive-thru restaurants in just an hour or so, she may have bulimia and likely needs help.
3. Throwing up
It’s joked about a lot on television, but hearing someone you know head to the bathroom to throw up after every meal could indicate the presence of bulimia. Someone with this eating disorder binge eats and then forces herself to throw up to prevent absorption of the calories she just consumed. If barfing after sharing a meal is a common occurrence, your friend or family member might have an eating disorder.
4. Distorted Body Image
Maybe you know someone who constantly rags herself for the way she looks. I’ve had plenty of friends who do this. While it doesn’t always indicate an eating disorder, a distorted sense of self is a common symptom in anorexia. If you know someone who calls herself fat, even when she’s scary thin, or talks about how she has no control around food, even when you never see her eating, it might be time to get her some help.
It’s normal to have a bad day here and there and get down about life in general on occasion. Who hasn’t wanted to crawl back into bed and eat ice cream all day? If you know someone who seems down and depressed more often than not, it’s a warning sign that she might have an eating disorder. While it doesn’t indicate the condition on its own, depression, when accompanied by strange eating habits and low self-esteem, might mean your friend needs help.
6. Body Hair
I’m not talking about a sudden beard or crazy bushy eyebrows, but the presence of a fine layer of hair on your friend’s body could mean she has an eating disorder. This hair grows when someone starves their body of essential nutrients, either by refusing to eat or by purging her meals. It’s the body’s natural defense mechanism for warmth when there isn’t enough insulating fat.
7. Cooking for Others
Don’t jump all over a friend simply because she cooks you a meal. However, preparing elaborate and crazy meals for others is a hallmark of anorexia. Someone with the disease is obsessed with food and thinks about it all the time, regardless of how much of it she eats herself. So, if you know someone who goes out of her way to prepare fancy, gourmet meals, but never partakes, you could be looking at someone with an eating disorder.
How would you handle the possibility of an eating disorder? It’s important to tread carefully so your friend or family member knows you only want to help. Do you know someone who might be in need?