I Have a Loved One Who I Believe Has An Eating Disorder – What To Do
Eating disorders are serious, possibly life-threatening illnesses that will affect tens of millions of Americans over the course of their lifetimes. It is important to remember that eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, or background, and that there is not one cause behind them but likely a range of psychological, biological, and sociocultural factors that inform the likelihood that someone will develop one. It is important to look out for any hints that could suggest someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, because the earlier one receives treatment, the better chance they have for recovering.
Possible Warning Signs
Behavioral and emotional signs you can look out for include:
- Great concern with one’s body shape and size
- Appearing uncomfortable eating around other people
- Recurrent dieting
- Skipping meals
- Not allowing certain foods to touch
- Excessive chewing
- Behaviors and attitudes that point towards dieting, weight loss, and control of food becoming major concerns for an individual
- The refusal to eat specific foods, which can progress to restrictions against entire food groups (i.e. no carbohydrates)
- Taking small portions of food at regular meals
- A preoccupation with calories, food, weight, fat grams, carbohydrates, and dieting
- Food rituals (only eating a particular food group or food)
- Frequent checks in the mirror for supposed flaws in their appearance
- Withdrawal from usual activities
- Withdrawal from friends
- Extreme mood swings
And some physical warning signs are:
- Impaired immunity
- Difficulties concentrating
- Abnormal laboratory results such as low hormone levels, anemia, low white and red blood cell counts, and low potassium
- Yellow skin (could be in the context of eating large amounts of carrots)
- Issues with one’s sleep
- Noticeable fluctuations (both up and down) of weight
- The discoloration of teeth as well as the development of cavities, which may result from vomiting
- The Swelling of one’s feet
- Swelling around the salivary glands
- Cuts and/or calluses across the top of finger joints, which could suggest inducing vomiting
- Stomach cramps and other non-specific gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and acid reflux
- Constantly feeling cold
- Dizziness, particularly when one stands up
- Menstrual irregularities, such as missed periods or only experiencing a period when on hormonal contraceptives
- Muscle weakness
- Dry hair and skin
- Fine hair on one’s body
- Poor wound healing
- Cold, mottled hands
- Brittle nails
What to Do if You are Worried About a Loved One
If you become worried about a loved one who you suspect is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association offers helpful advice on how to voice your concerns:
- Tell someone else; it may help you feel less burdened by wanting to help your friend.
- Be caring yet firm.
- Learn as much about eating disorders as possible.
- Set a time and place where you can speak privately.
- Rehearse what you plan to say.
- Be honest with them.
- Use lots of “I” statements to discuss behaviors you have noticed.
- Stay true to facts.
- Avoid suggesting overly simple solutions, such as “just eat.”
- Encourage your loved one to look into getting professional help.