Nutrition Articles

Recognizing Eating Disorders and Getting Help

It's Not Just about Food and Weight

Full-fledged eating disorders are abnormal, disordered patterns of eating that become out-of-control. All types of eating disorders represent serious and immediate threats to the health, well-being, and happiness of the individuals caught up in them.

For practical purposes, it’s less important to know the clinical criteria that doctors use to diagnose these disorders than it is to simply recognize the typical behaviors and thoughts that people tend to exhibit. Many people start slipping into these patterns well before they meet the formal requirements for diagnosis. Likewise, a basic understanding of how people use these “disordered” behaviors and thought patterns to solve the problems they are experiencing in daily life can point the way to finding better solutions. This will help individuals and their loved ones figure out if professional help is needed.

Common Signs & Behaviors
The following behaviors can be signs of an active eating disorder:
  • Refusal to maintain a minimum, healthy weight and adequate nutrition. This is usually due to intense fear of gaining weight, not losing weight, or becoming fat.
  • A distorted body image. You see yourself as fat even when you are underweight or at normal, healthy weight. Your weight, shape and appearance are primary factors for determining your self-worth and self-image.
  • Severely restricting food intake. This may also include a rigid unwillingness to eat certain types of food due to their caloric contents, such as sweets and fats.
  • Eating large quantities of food twice per week (or more). "Large quantities" are obviously more food than most people would eat under similar circumstances. These binges usually occur within a short time (two hours or less) and are accompanied by out-of-control feelings and an inability to stop oneself.
  • Purging behaviors. This includes self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives, enemas, or diuretics, and/or exercising excessively. The purpose of "purging" is to eliminate calories eaten, to get “bad” foods out of the body, to prevent weight gain, and/or to reduce strong feelings of guilt, anxiety or shame.
  • Overeating frequently. This may involve several of the following factors: eating much faster than normal; eating until you are uncomfortably full; eating large amounts when you know you aren’t really hungry; eating alone out of embarrassment or hiding your eating from others; and feeling depressed, guilty, or disgusted with yourself because of your eating. Continued ›
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

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