Do I Have an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are much more prevalent than many people realize. In the U.S. alone, more than 30 million people will struggle with one. An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that affects an individual’s eating habits and can cause severe distress about body weight and shape. Disturbed eating patterns can look anything like extreme food restriction to periods of excessive food intake.
How do we know when disordered eating becomes an eating disorder? It can be difficult to distinguish between the two when dieting is so prevalent and excessive exercise is glorified. However, eating disorders, unlike disordered eating, impair one’s health and ability to function in terms of life goals, relationships, career, and more.
There are many types of eating disorders, each with an array of signs and symptoms, including anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, ARFID, and OSFED. In this article, we will cover the warning signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, the key questions to ask yourself if you are concerned you have one, and the misperception that eating disorders only affect young, thin, white women.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
The warning signs of an eating disorder can sometimes be difficult to detect, especially in a culture that normalizes disordered eating. It is also common for many people with eating disorders to experience denial about their struggle with food. Eating disorders affect a person physically, behaviorally, emotionally, and psychologically. Some people experience weight changes as a result of their disorder; others do not. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders is often the first step in determining if you are suffering from one. If you feel that you may have developed an eating disorder, reflect on the following signs and symptoms:
- Dramatic weight gain or loss
- Frequently talking about food, weight, and shape
- Rapid or persistent decline or increase in food intake
- Excessive or compulsive exercise patterns
- Purging, restricting, binge eating, or compulsive eating
- Abuse of diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or emetics
- Denial of food and eating problems, despite the concerns of others
- Eating in secret, hiding food, disrupting meals, feeling out of control with food
- Medical complications, such as menstrual irregularity, dizziness, fainting, bruising, dry skin, leg cramps, hair loss, brittle hair, osteoporosis, diarrhea, constipation, dental problems, diabetes, chest pain, heart disease, heartburn, shortness of breath, organ failure, and other serious symptoms
What to Ask Yourself if You Think You Have an Eating Disorder
The earlier you receive proper treatment for an eating disorder, the better the outcome will be. The first step is identifying the issue. The SCOFF questionnaire (Morgan, Reid, & Lacey-BMJ, 1999) is a very simple, straightforward questionnaire that addresses people across eating disorder diagnoses. Here are six questions we recommend asking yourself, adapted from the SCOFF questionnaire:
- Do you feel like you sometimes lose or have lost control over how you eat?
- Do you ever make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
- Do you believe yourself to be fat, even when others say you are too thin?
- Do food or thoughts about food dominate your life?
- Do thoughts about changing your body and/or your weight dominate your life?
- Have others become worried about your weight and/or eating?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, we recommend seeking help from eating disorder professionals. Specialists like those at The Emily Program can evaluate your symptoms and address your concerns.
Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate
There is a misperception in our culture that young, thin, white women are the only people affected by eating disorders, but this is not true. It doesn’t help that research has historically focused on clients who fit this profile, in part because white women were (and still are) the most likely to receive care. Eating disorders can and do affect individuals of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, body sizes, classes, and abilities.
According to the International Journal of Eating Disorders, despite similar rates of eating disorders among non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States, people of color are significantly less likely to receive help for their eating issues. It isn’t that people of color aren’t experiencing eating disorders at the same rate as white individuals, they are simply less likely to receive treatment because of factors that are out of their control. It is a similar situation with other marginalized groups, and of course, these groups often overlap. Weight stigma, ageism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and more can also cause people not to seek out help from professionals for fear that they do not look like a “typical” eating disorder patient.
You Deserve Help
Eating disorders affect everyone differently. Just because what you’re experiencing isn’t exactly what you see depicted in the media does not mean that you do not have an eating disorder. Eating disorders should be taken seriously. It is easy to become overwhelmed when you don’t know what is going on, but you are not alone. Eating disorder specialists are available to help you determine the course of action that’s right for you.