Recognizing an Eating Disorder

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are serious medical problems. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorders are all life threatening. What you rarely know is that these lethal mental disorders are may arise from a seemingly innocent obsession with dieting and exercising. Disordered eating isn’t necessarily an eating disorder but it may very well lead to it in time.

In fact over 40 to 50 percent of young women are disordered eaters. What is worse is that instead of correcting this, disordered eating has become the norm among many young women. What is disordered eating exactly and why is it important to correct it?

Most of us, at one point have missed a meal or two. We’ve also been preoccupied with our body image and wished we looked more like a movie star. What distinguishes disordered eating from the usual weird eating habit is the purpose behind the behavior and whether or not the person has any control over it.

More specifically disordered eating is when the person’s attitude towards food, weight and body size lead to very inflexible habits that become harmful to the person involved.

Symptoms of eating disorders

How can you tell if you are dealing with disordered eating and not just an overriding goal to lose weight? Read the next few sentences and answer yes or no.

  • Do you avoid eating meals or snacks when you are around other people?
  • Do you constantly calculate numbers of fat grams and calories?
  • Do you weigh yourself often and find yourself obsessed with the number on the scale?
  • Do you exercise because you feel like you have to, not because you want to?
  • Are you afraid of gaining weight?
  • Do you ever feel out of control when you are eating?
  • Do your eating patterns include extreme dieting, preferences for certain foods, withdrawn or ritualized behavior at mealtime, or secretive bingeing?
  • Have weight loss, dieting, and/or control of food become one of your major concerns?
  • Do you feel ashamed, disgusted, or guilty after eating?
  • Do you worry about the weight, shape, or size of your body?
  • Do you feel like your identity and value is based on how you look or how much you weigh?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions then you may be dealing with disordered eating. The good news is that this doesn’t mean that you will develop the more serious eating disorders. Recognizing the problem early on will save you from future trips to the hospital.

You may have problems talking to people about your habits but if you can reach out to someone you trust, treatment will go much easier. Try to find a comfortable place where you can easily talk to the person. Don’t give in to feelings of shame, fear, and anger that you may experience during this conversation. Remember that you are doing this for your own good.

Give the person the facts about your habits and remind them that you need their support and patience during the long recovery process. Another important thing to take note of is the number of a professional who understands in eating issues. For some, confiding in a professional will be more comfortable because of that person’s objectivity regarding the case.

You should not wait for your disordered eating habits to develop into a much more serious and potentially life threatening eating disorder. This is an actual instance where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.