The Holiday season is heading our way and that means two things: family gatherings and food. You might not have seen some of your friends or family members in a long time. Maybe you live far away or they recently went away to college. Regardless, you might have noticed some changes about them that raise a few red flags and make you think they could be at risk for an eating disorder. Here are a few subtle signs that someone you know might have an eating disorder.
1. They have restrictive and unusual rules around food
People at risk for an eating disorder might have strange rules around food. For example, your best friend might inform you she is only eating foods that are soft or liquid, like yogurt, Jello, or smoothies. Your brother might force himself to eat a certain amount of protein each day even when he’s not hungry. Not only are these rules out of the ordinary, but they are treated as law. If people at risk for an eating disorder are offered or eat foods that break their rules, they could have a strong emotional reaction that might result in screaming, crying, or verbal abuse.
2. They won’t eat in front of others
While everyone in the room is stuffing their faces with turkey and pie, you might notice your friend is picking away at a tiny helping of carrots. You might catch your brother eating a slice of cake late at night when he refused any dessert at dinner. Those at risk for an eating disorder might feel ashamed of eating in front of others. Don’t ignore it if it seems like someone around you is avoiding or refusing to eat in a social setting.
3. They collect recipes and cook meals for others without eating
You might notice that your friend has a Pinterest account full of recipes for meals she has never made. Your brother might cook a huge meal for everyone else but refuse to have a bite of it. While this behavior in relation to eating disorders is not quite understood, many believe it has to do with a person wanting to eat vicariously through looking at recipes or feeding others.
4. Food goes missing
As mentioned in #2, people at risk for eating disorders might feel too ashamed to eat in front of others so, they might eat leftovers from the fridge when no one is around. Also, if they feel temptation to eat a certain food item, they may throw it out even if the food belongs to someone else. On the other side of the spectrum, those with binge eating disorders tend to eat a large amount of food in a short time when no one is watching. This could be another reason it seems like food is going missing.
5. They avoid others
Eating disorders often cause people to isolate themselves for many reasons. They may want to avoid people offering them food or commenting on their weight. They may want to keep their restrictive rules and behaviors around food a secret so they avoid people whenever possible. If your brother is locking himself in his room during family get-togethers or your friend is avoiding all social contact, it might be a warning sign of a deeper problem.
6. They focus on their body shape and size
You might catch your friend constantly checking her waist in a mirror or overhear your brother talk about how fat he is when he is at a healthy weight. You also might notice they can’t take a compliment about their physical appearance. Our thin-crazed culture has made it normal for women and men alike to hate their bodies if they don’t look like a Barbie or Ken doll. But don’t ignore it. If someone is frequently making negative comments about his or her appearance while sticking to a restrictive diet, it could be a sign of a much bigger issue.
7. There is a change in the clothes they wear
You might have noticed that your friend turned down her favorite party dress to show up at a Holiday party in baggy pants and a huge sweater. Or maybe your brother refuses to wear a clothing item he got as a gift for fear he won’t fit into it. Many people affected by eating disorders often report having trouble perceiving their true body shape. A 90lb woman might see herself as overweight or a very muscular man might view himself as either too fat or too scrawny. This is why you might notice a change in the way your family member or friend dresses. Those with an eating disorder might want to cover up their bodies if they see their bodies as flawed.
Golden Takeaway: Be on the lookout for these possible signs of an eating disorder in your loved ones. If you are concerned that you or someone you care about is at risk for an eating disorder, it is important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
There are more than 7 signs of an eating disorder. For more information on the signs and symptoms of eating disorders you can visit ANRED.