How to identify an eating disorder


Eating disorders have high rates of diagnosis within teen populations and the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. One of the greatest reasons for these trends may be ignorance of the tell-tale symptoms. Although many are subtle, there are numerous warning signs that can indicate an eating disorder.

What you see is not necessarily what you eat

According to Laura Discipio, executive director of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “People can have eating disorders and be of normal weight or overweight. So weight and body size are not the only predictors. Really, you want to look at behaviors and attitudes.”

In part of an Australian Government Department of Health initiative, the National Eating Disorders Collaboration also detailed initial behaviors that can signal an eating disorder exists within a person. For friends and family, these early recognizable features consist of:

  • Sensitivity to comments concerning body weight, personal shape or anything related to eating
  • Extreme changes in dietary preferences that can encompass prolonged fasting and meticulous calorie counting
  • Eating secretively or avoiding meals with others
  • Discovering missing or hoarded food
  • Changes in clothing style that mask the body
  • Overexercising
  • Having ritualized activities related to food preparation or consumption
  • The excessive use or abuse of appetite suppressants including (but not limited to) caffeine, diuretics, laxatives, enemas, alternative supplements or illicit drugs

The wide spread of symptoms

One of the most definitive sources of eating disorder management is the Academy for Eating Disorders’ annual report. In addition to telltale behaviors, the organization listed the broad range of physical characteristics that may display in individuals with an eating disorder. Symptoms can fall into one or more of the following areas:

  • General: Some changes are immediately noticeable, such as significant weight loss, weight gain, fatigue or weakness
  • Dermatological: Without the needed nourishment, a person’s hair may begin thinning or falling out completely, while his or her skin may become discolored and rough
  • Oral: Especially in the case of frequent purging or vomiting, teeth erosion and other forms of mouth-focused trauma may develop
  • Gastrointestinal: The person may commonly complain about stomach discomfort, constipation or rectal damage
  • Cardiovascular: The lack of nutrients will eventually harm the heart, resulting in chest pains or an irregular heartbeat
  • Respiratory: Disrupted blood flow will directly affect a person’s ability to take in oxygen, which will cause shorter and more strained breathing
  • Endocrine: In addition to a loss of sex drive, decreases in bone density will also increase the risk of serious injuries. In women, menstrual cycles may become irregular or cease altogether
  • Neurological: Malnutrition also influences the mind, which may lead to an inability to sleep, concentrate or recall memories. More extreme outcomes may include various illnesses such as depression, anxiety or even seizures

Some educational facilities are equipped with specialized programs to address behavioral disorders during adolescence, like White River Academy. This therapeutic boarding school for teen boys blends academics with treatment, so if you or your adolescent is struggling with a serious mental disorder, contact us by phone through our 24/7 helpline or online to learn about our effective solutions.

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