Registered Dietitian Discusses the Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders: Early Detection is Key to Prevention

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NED), and its theme is, I had no idea. This theme is particularly poignant because eating disorders remain to be taken seriously as a mental health issue, even though they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

According to ANAD  (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders), an estimated 24 million people suffer from eating disorders in the United States. To put it in perspective:

  • The population of Chile is 18 million.
  • 24 million people would mean that the populations of Texas and Louisiana suffer from an eating disorder.
  • 24 million people need help to get healthy, yet, statistically, only 10% of men and women who suffer from eating disorders receive treatment, many of whom have to fight insurance to get treatment covered. The road to wellness must include a team: a doctor who is very familiar with eating disorder symptoms, a therapist, a psychiatrist for medication if needed, a registered dietitian or nutritionist, and if there is exercise abuse, a personal trainer or exercise physiologist.

There is so much misinformation about eating disorders, when they begin, who they effect, what they are. And caregivers, parents, and friends are scared when they see a loved one hurting. Oftentimes when the eating disorder finally surfaces, the road back to health is arduous and almost impossibly long. As with any disease, we know that prevention is key. Early intervention can stop a problem from developing into a full-blown eating disorder.

But the only way we can prevent and help detect an eating disorder early on is through education. “I had no idea,” hopes to educate. As parents, educators, care givers, and friends, it’s our responsibility to see, learn, respond and help. Some people who suffer from eating disorders are masters of disguise, while others won’t even recognize their behavior as being harmful.

We must be aware when our loved ones are most at risk and look for these early signs.

Most eating disorders and unhealthy food behaviors begin in early adolescence, in children between the ages of 12 and 14 years old. However, eating disorders in women over 50 is on the rise.

Eating disorders do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter your color, age, ethnicity, religion, gender, or race. Though more common in girls, boys, too, suffer from disorders and are less likely to ask for help since they believe it’s a “girl problem.”

 

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is huge in this country and is contributing to obesity in the US. The symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Behavioral signs: inability to stop eating and/or eating quickly, eating when you’re full, hiding food to eat in secret later, eating normal when you’re around people but hoarding food to later eat in secret, continuously eating
  • Psychological signs: relieving tension with food, ashamed about how much food you eat, feeling detached while eating, feeling guilty and depressed about eating, feeling out of control about eating.

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulemia

  • Physical signs include: rapid weight loss or fluctuation of weight, insomnia, change in menstrual cycle, lethargy, bruised knuckles and fingers (from vomiting), swelling around cheeks and jaw, bad breath, dental problems, hair loss, complaining of cold (body temperature regulation goes wonky), vomiting.
  • Behavioral signs include: dieting, eating in secret, secretive about food habits (saying she’s eaten when she hasn’t), food hoarding, frequent trips to the bathroom after eating, compulsive exercising (eg, going for a run when he’s sick or if it’s snowing etc.), calorie counting, food rituals (cutting food in small pieces, eating really slow, chewing food a certain number of bites, insisting on a specific “food time”), hiding uneaten food, wearing baggy clothes.
  • Psychological signs include: Using food as comfort or punishment (anxious eating or refusing food because of stress etc.), obsession about body image, weight, calories, rigid perspective of food as “bad” or “good.”

Next week, we’re going to discuss marginalized voices – those who are largely ignored when discussing eating disorders including women over fifty, men, and athletes. Education is the key to prevention.


 

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