How to Know If You Have an Eating Disorder

Signs of Eating Disorders

If you think you have an eating disorder, start getting help right away. (image by Lucia Whittaker via flickr)

I tend to obsess about what, when, and how much I eat. How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

These signs of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and body dysmorphic disorder could help you recognize an eating disorder — which can then lead to effective treatment. If you’re not sure about treatments, read 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder.

Eating disorders aren’t about weight loss, diets, or healthy eating — they are serious psychological disorders. Bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and other eating disorders are about feeling sad and unhappy about who you are. The symptoms and treatments of an eating disorder are tied in with mental and emotional health.

Before you can start treatment for eating disorders, you need to recognize the signs of eating disorders.

When you inhale a quart of cookie dough ice cream, a pan of fudge brownies, and four soda pops all in one sitting – then you know you have an eating disorder. When you then rush off to the bathroom to purge by forcing yourself to throw up or using laxatives – then your eating disorder is more serious and even life-threatening! Those are symptoms of a psychological disorder that requires treatment.

Often, bulimia and anorexia aren’t just about dieting and weight loss — they’re about emotional eating. It’s also important to remember everyone is at risk for an eating disorder, even men and boys. I recently wrote an article on moms and eating disorders.

Signs of Eating Disorders

Body dysmorphic disorder, binge eating, bulimia and other eating disorders indicate a sadness about one’s body and life. There are other harmful eating disordered behavior: anorexia or self-starvation, laxative use, compulsive eating, and over-exercising. Some eating disorders are obvious, others less easy to see.

Though society and the media glamorize being thin and beautiful, eating disorders aren’t all about losing weight. Eating disorders are about unexpressed feelings of fear, anxiety, grief, inadequacy or failure. Eating disorders are efforts to take control in a chaotic life – desperate attempts to deal with difficult situations and negative feelings. Eating disorders may start as a way to take control or avoid certain emotions, and then develop into a habit that is incredibly difficult to overcome (but not impossible, so stay the course!). The feelings that can lead to a full-fledged eating disorder are exacerbated, or made worse, by society’s standards of beauty and perfection. This is how body dysmorphic disorder can start.

Recognizing the signs of eating disorders is the first step to effective treatment.

Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, or Healthy Eating?

There is a huge difference between an eating disorder, which is a psychological disorder requiring diagnosis and treatment, and simply being preoccupied with weight, fitness, and healthy eating. It’s almost impossible to live in North America and not be concerned with weight loss, since we’re as a society obsessed with beauty and perfection. The line between eating disorders and healthy eating can blur – which is why knowing how to recognize the signs of eating disorders is so important.

You may have an eating disorder if you:

  • feel fat even if your weight and BMI is normal
  • eat to avoid dealing with feelings, people, or situations
  • want to be perfect
  • feel bad about yourself, unworthy, or insignificant
  • are preoccupied with food, calories, and eating
  • eat until you’re painfully full, and/or purge by using laxatives or vomiting
  • don’t recognize when you’re truly physically hungry for food
  • don’t eat at all, or eat less than 1,000 calories a day
  • are excessively thin or overweight
  • exercise all the time

Saying “yes” to one or two of these signs of eating disorders doesn’t necessarily mean you have an eating disorder, but it could indicate that your body image or self-esteem isn’t healthy.

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Effectively treating anorexia or bulimia can involve cognitive behavioral therapy, medications such as antidepressants, or in-patient treatment at a hospital. Different treatments work for different people, which is why it’s so important to talk to a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist as soon as possible.

For more tips, read Family Therapy for Teenagers With Anorexia Nervosa.

Before You Go...

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
I'm a full-time freelance writer and blogger in Vancouver, BC. I created the "Quips and Tips" blog series; my degrees are in Education, Psychology, and Social Work. I welcome your comments below, but I don't give advice. I can offer you a prayer and a blessing, though! You'd be surprised how helpful a prayer can be....

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3 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    I agree – binging and purging are signs of an eating disorder. I struggled with bulimia for years, and found counseling to be a little helpful. It did not help me stop the bulimia, though.

    What helped most was realizing that when I binge and purge, I disconnect from my feelings and thoughts. When I am healthy, I stay connected to myself and others. An eating disorder is a form of disconnection from both yourself and other people.

    Does thinking about bulimia this way help you?

  2. xom says:

    “I overeat and throw up afterwards. This isn’t an eating disorder, is it”

    Bulimia it’s when you BING and then PURGE! …so i’de say yes.

  3. kc says:

    Some of this article applies to me, but I don’t think I have an eating disorder. I just have a low self-esteem sometimes, so I overeat and throw up afterwards. This isn’t an eating disorder, is it?

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