Recognizing eating disorders

Because everyone today seems concerned about weight, and because most people diet at least once in a while, it is hard to tell what is normal behaviour and what is a problem that may escalate to threaten life and happiness. No one person will show all of the characteristics listed below, but people with eating disorders will manifest several.

What to look for:

  • dramatic weight loss in a short period of time (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • feeling fat when not overweight (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • obsession with continuous exercise (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • visible food restriction and self-starvation (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • frequent trips to the bathroom immediately following a meal (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • low self-esteem
  • secretive eating habits
  • tooth loss or decay (for anorexia and bulimia)
  • trouble concentrating
  • obsession with food and weight
  • holding oneself and others to rigid, perfectionist standards
  • denial
  • social withdrawal
  • binge eating (for people with bulimia, binging is usually followed by "purging": induced vomiting and the use of laxatives and diuretics; in binge eating disorder, there is no purging)
  • use of laxatives or diuretics
  • depression
  • stopping of menstrual periods
  • impulsive behaviour
  • drug and alcohol abuse

If you notice these warning signs in yourself or someone you care about, it is important to seek help. Eating disorders can be successfully treated, but usually require the help of medical professionals and may involve nutrition education, psychotherapy, family counselling, and medications.

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