5 Signs You Have an Eating Disorder
If you’ve developed a problematic relationship with food, you may be asking yourself, Do I have an eating disorder? This is not a trivial question, since an eating disorder can ruin your life or even prove fatal if left untreated.
Only a physician can make a final diagnosis, but here are five clear warning signs that might suggest you’re in the early stages of an eating disorder.
#1 Constant preoccupation with weight, body shape and appearance. You look at yourself in the mirror several times a day and are never satisfied with what you see. Even if you lose weight your evaluations of your appearance remain negative, and as time goes by, you become more and more disenchanted with your weight and the shape of your body.
As you contemplate whether or not you have an eating disorder, this is probably the earliest sign of trouble you’ll notice. Poor body image tends to precede problematic eating, and it tends to worsen as the eating disorder develops.
#2 Obsession with calorie counting. You won’t eat anything unless you know exactly how many calories it contains, and your daily caloric intake is generally below the level recommended by medical experts for someone of your gender, age and size. If you consume more calories than you’d prefer, you may skip meals or exercise to the point of exhaustion to compensate.
#3 Changes in eating practices unrelated to nutritional concerns — or logic. You may begin to avoid whole categories of food, or confine your diet to certain textures. Perhaps you’ve started eating at odd times of the day, like late at night or in the middle of the night after waking. You might be cutting your food into tiny pieces or refusing to mix certain types of foods with others. You may even be hiding food and then consuming it later when you’re alone and there’s no one around to watch or judge you.
It has probably occurred to you that none of this behavior makes much sense, yet you can’t seem to help yourself.
#4 Negative emotional states frequently accompany eating. After finishing a meal, are you plagued by feelings of guilt, shame or depression? Do you binge eat, even when you know that doing so will leave you filled with regret and self-loathing?
When eating becomes a source of embarrassment or self-contempt this is a sure sign your relationship with food has become dysfunctional.
#5 Body changes and symptoms of illness. Sudden weight loss or rapid weight fluctuations are obvious signs of eating disorders. If your poor and disordered eating habits are becoming habitual, you’ll begin to notice further telltale signs of an eating disorder and ill health, including:
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Sensitivity to cold
- Irregular menstruation
- Brittle nails that are prone to cracking or tearing
- Chronic fatigue and low energy
- Dizziness or fainting spells
- Frequent constipation or hemorrhoids
- Susceptibility to bruising and broken bones
- Irregular heartbeat or low blood pressure
These are all signs of inadequate calorie consumption and/or malnutrition. Once things reach this point, it is vital that you seek medical attention before your condition progresses.
How to Overcome an Eating Disorder
Food is not your enemy, but if you’ve been treating it like it is, the time has come to take action.
Working closely with a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders will help you restore your healthy relationship with food and come to terms with some of the underlying self-esteem issues that have been driving your self-destructive behavior.
Eating disorders are treatable and your recovery can be complete, but you have to recognize and acknowledge the problem first before you’ll have a legitimate chance of defeating it.
University of Rochester Medical Center: Eating Disorders—5 Warning Signs
National Eating Disorders Collaboration: Understanding the Warning Signs