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What Are the Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder?

There is a large overlap between addiction and eating disorders. About half of people with an eating disorder will also have a substance use problem and about a third of substance abusers also have an eating disorder. If you have a both an addiction and an eating disorder treating both at once improves your chances of success in recovery. Here are some signs you or someone you know might have an eating disorder.

Signs of anorexia.

The main sign of anorexia is dramatic weight loss. People with anorexia will often try to hide this weight loss by dressing in baggy clothes or layers. Because of the low body mass, undernutrition, and low body fat, they are often cold. They will typically be preoccupied with food, exercise, and dieting. They may be meticulous about counting calories, fats, sugars, and other nutritional values. They may also be meticulous about excluding certain kinds of food like carbohydrates. Sometimes restrictive diets like veganism can mask anorexia. Often, people with anorexia will make excuses to avoid situations where they might have to eat with others. They prefer to exercise extreme control over what they eat. Consequences of anorexia include malnutrition and organ failure.

Signs of bulimia.

As with anorexia, someone with bulimia is likely to lose a lot of weight quickly and hide it with baggy clothes or layers. They may also be similarly preoccupied with dieting and exercising. What distinguishes bulimia is the binging and purging. So a lot of food may disappear in a short time, although no one is seen eating it. They may spend time in the bathroom after every meal. There may be signs of laxatives or diuretics. They may frequently chew gum or use mouthwash to hide the smell of vomit on their breath. They may also have scarred knuckles from inducing vomiting. Bulimia can cause abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding esophagus, dental and kidney problems.

Binge eating.

Whereas anorexia and bulimia are more common among women, binge eating is equally common among men and women. As with bulimia, a sign of binge eating is a lot of food disappearing quickly. Binge eaters are often feel out of control and ashamed of their eating, which can be triggered by stress. They may also wear baggy clothes, although it’s usually to hide weight gain. They may seem to diet frequently without ever losing weight. They may hoard food and hide wrappers. Binge eating typically leads to obesity and all the problems that go with it, including higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Eating disorders are serious, but they often respond well to treatment, which typically includes therapy and sometimes medication.

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