Any kind of disordered eating can be difficult to overcome. They grip tightly to both the mental and physical side of a person. They become like an addiction making it very difficult to overcome. A person with an eating disorder can have the ability to function for a long period of time. They often become so good at hiding it that it might take others, even people who are close to them, a long time to notice there is a problem. Eating disorders can be extremely dangerous and lethal over time. The earlier disordered eating can be treated the better. While it is important to notice signs and symptoms, without some transparency from the person struggling, sometimes it can be difficult to know the severity of the eating disorder. It can be helpful to understand the differences in eating disorders and the signs of each one. Anorexia involves food restriction. Those struggling with anorexia have significantly low body weight for what is considered medically appropriate for their particular demographic. They also display an intense fear of gaining weight and have a distorted perception of their body or are in denial of their low body weight. There are signs and symptoms that might reveal a potential issue, but then there are some that raise red flags. When those red flags raised, it is imperative someone receives treatment because they may on the verge of their body shutting down, resulting in life-threatening conditions.
The following symptoms can reveal the severity of the anorexia and can be signs that their body is on a downhill spiral:
- Unhealthy relationship with food. While this might not be an automatic sign of severity, it is a sign that should not be ignored. Whether it is in the early onset of anorexia or deep into the condition, issues related to food are symptoms of disordered eating. A person with an unhealthy relationship with food might: chew their food but spit it out because they do not want the calories; obsess over eating low calorie foods or even have a fear of certain foods; deny themselves from eating; or lie about how little they have eaten.
- Extreme weight loss. They might have a thin appearance including the exposure of certain bones that were not often noticeable beforehand (i.e. collarbone, ribs, hips, etc.). They may continue to lose a couple pounds or more a week. With anorexia, they will be noticeably thin to the point where is seems unhealthy.
- Dizziness and fainting. If they are passing out regularly, they are not getting enough calories. If they are doing this regularly or mention continued dizziness, this can be a sign of very poor nutrition.
- Hair thinning, breaking, and falling out. Without the proper nutrients, a person’s hair can become thin and extremely brittle. If their hair seems to be thinning, that can be a symptom of a larger issue. Another interesting condition can include the growth of soft, small hairs on their extremities. This type of hair grows in the body’s attempt to retain heat due to extreme weight loss.
- Other medical conditions like low blood pressure, irregular rhythms, or absence of menstruation in women. These conditions might be difficult know unless there is a relationship with the person who is experiencing these symptoms. However, these signs indicate there is a serious problem. It is crucial to seek help immediately if some of these medical conditions are revealed. These symptoms can indicate the body is struggling to function and life-threatening conditions will be imminent if not treated.
When dealing with eating disorders like anorexia, it is important to pay attention to the signs and symptoms. If someone is suspected to be struggling with an eating disorder, it will essential to seek further professional, specialized treatment.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She also has a special interest in working with athletes and has been bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is in the process of becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant to further her expertise in sports psychology. Prior to her move to Abilene, Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.