When I think of eating disorders, one of my first thoughts is Maureen, one of the main characters of my favorite movies about ballet, Center Stage. Maureen, was bulimic. It was the first time I saw what it’s like for someone living with an eating disorder. And it was in a movie. Ironic, isn’t it?
What I didn’t know is that there different warning signs of eating disorders.
A person with an eating disorder might be underweight, overweight or normal weight. But most have distortions in their body image that can cause them to change exercise or eating habits. Often, people living with an eating disorder also experience depression, anxiety and/or substance use challenges.
The most common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder affect up to 30 million people in the United States. It effects all ages, genders, races and cultures. Despite eating disorders having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, most people can’t tell when someone close to them is living with one.
These brief descriptions and characteristics of the most common eating disorders may help you recognize the signs in someone close to you and guide them to the help they need.
Anorexia nervosa encompasses behaviors like dieting, fasting, over-exercising, taking diet pills, diuretics, laxatives and vomiting. Women outnumber the number of men affected by anorexia, drastically.
Characteristics of anorexia nervosa include:
1. Constantly expressing disdain for their body or how unsatisfied they are with the way they look, even if they are fit and toned.
2. Maintaining a bodyweight that is at least 15 percent below the nation average for their age and height.
3. Missing at least three menstrual cycles consecutively.
4. Intense fear of gaining weight or appearing fat.
Bulimia nervosa affects those who have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of foods followed by purging (throwing up), fasting and/or excessive exercise. Unlike anorexia, when an individual is bulimic, they may be slightly underweight, normal weight or overweight.
Characteristics of bulimia nervosa include:
1. Over-thinking of self-image, body shape and/or weight.
2. Episodes of uncontrolled eating that occur at least two times a week for up to three months or longer.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder occurs when an individual repeatedly eats unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time. This behavior happens two times a week for six months or more. People living with binge eating disorder do not purge or use extreme weight loss strategies. After eating they may feel disgusted, distressed, ashamed or guilty over their behavior and/or physical appearance, which can fuel their depression.
Characteristics of binge eating disorder include:
1. Continuous weight gain.
2. Eating in secret and feeling of shame when a friend or loved one finds their food cache.
3. Intense satisfaction when eating, followed by remorse and mood swings.
These are just a few of the signs that someone is living with an eating disorder. Take a Mental Health First Aid course today to learn how to #BeTheDifference and connect your loved ones with the appropriate care and support they may need.