Having an eating disorder for a large portion of my life, I have become aware that certain personality traits of someone with an eating disorder are easy to spot. Believe it or not, these very traits are what can even cause eating disorders to develop more easily in some women or men than others. It’s no surprise really. Our brains are wired to function certain ways, and from the time we are born, we display unique things about our personality that influence what we enjoy doing, how we socialize, how we feel about social conflict, how easily we get upset, how creative we are, and even how we feel about intimacy. Many, many things affect our personality, and even genetics have a large part to do with this. One reason that the personality traits of someone with an eating disorder are hard to spot, is that these traits exist naturally in so many people. Yet, for someone with an eating disorder, these traits become more evident because they usually exist together and more pronounced in disordered eaters. These traits don’t make disordered eaters weird, nor make everyone that has these traits likely to get an eating disorder automatically. They’re simply signs that seem to reappear in most every person that has an eating disorder.
One of the most common personality traits of someone with an eating disorder is the need for perfection in every area of their life. School, work, their cleaning routine, their appearance and even down to the way they handle situations, perfectionists want everything right all the time. In a person with an eating disorder this trait easily becomes out of hand because it is a means for control, that the person uses through their diet. They think if they can perfect their diet and body, it is a way to be “right” and be in control.
Even if a person with an eating disorder doesn’t have diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, they might still display signs of OCD. For instance, the need to have everything clean and in order all the time is a huge control mechanism. Many people with an eating disorder use this OCD feature as a form of control. Or, they might check several things all day, like themselves in the mirror, or anything else, just to feel under control. Eating disorders are about control, and the compulsion can set in anywhere if it makes them feel in control. Cleaning is a popular one, as well as exercising.
3. All or Nothing
Another trait that most all people with an eating disorder display is an all or nothing trait. They either do something 150% or not at all. Not everyone who acts this way has an eating disorder, but since eating disorders are about extremes, this is one area that being all or nothing can easily get out of hand. For instance, many people with an eating disorder either starve or binge, and nothing in between. They either eat junk food or perfect health food. Or, they might eat health food all day and at night eat nothing but junk. Eating disorders are everything balance is not. Just like all or nothing, they know no middle ground.
4. The Constant Need for More
Many times, a person with an eating disorder will look at the greener side of the grass on the other side of the hill. They always think that things will be better “when”, such as when they lose five pounds, when they find the right career, when they move to a certain place, etc. They are never content with where they are.
5. Low Self Esteem
One thing you’ll notice about someone with an eating disorder is how well they handle compliments, for example, if you compliment someone and they immediately negate what you say. For instance, you might tell someone that their hair looks cute, and they’ll say, “Oh, I have horrible hair!” This is a possible sign that they have a low self esteem. While not everyone who has a low self esteem has an eating disorder, everyone with an eating disorder always has a low self esteem, even if they don't act like it to others. They also don’t look people in the eye unless they have to, usually look a little sad when they’re by themselves, and almost always hide behind an identity because they don’t feel good enough in their own shell.
6. Very Emotional
Most all people with an eating disorder are very, very emotional. They’ll usually be very sensitive, or be more prone to extreme forms of emotions. For some reason, eating disorders seem to prey on emotional vulnerability, and that’s when they strike the hardest. People who are very emotional expose themselves to more vulnerability to getting hurt, and when they do, they often take part in eating disorders as a way to stop the pain, take the focus off the pain, or give them a sense of control again.
I’ve been a fearful person all my life, even since childhood when I was scared of the silliest things! I’ve learned to take care of this trait as an adult because now I recognize it. I’ve also overcome so many things to help me combat fear. I learned that fear is almost always a trait in a person with an eating disorder when I realized it was one of the largest reasons behind my own. Being fearful of some things in my life, my eating disorder was a way for me to feel confident again, or at least take the focus off what I was scared of to begin with.
Remember, no matter how much eating disorders don’t make sense, they’re always about two things: control and imbalance. They’re usually not so much about food, but food or lack of food, is simply the vehicle to which control and fear are displayed. What do you think? Do you think certain traits make us more vulnerable to developing eating disorders?