Having a loved one who is going through an eating disorder can be scary, and a lot of people don’t know what to do in that situation.

In preparation for National Eating Disorder Awareness week (February 26-March 4), we would like to help you assess the warning signs of eating disorders and give you tips to provide support to your loved one.

WHAT ARE EATING DISORDERS

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has classified five eating disorders:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

It is important to note that eating disorders are complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that can be caused by genetic or environmental factors and are not chosen, nor caused by a person.

Eating disorders can occur in conjunction with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, social phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Biological risk factors include having a close family member who has an eating disorder, family history of depression, anxiety or addiction, having a food allergy or having type 1 diabetes.

Psychological risk factors include anxiety, depression, perfectionism or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sociocultural risk factors include the promotion of skinny bodies, size/weight judgment (“ideal body”) or being around food culture that emphasizes dieting.

EATING DISORDER STATISTICS

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), at least 30 million people in the United States of all ages and genders suffer from eating disorders.

 

Statistics for Anorexia Nervosa:

  • 9 percent of American women have anorexia
  • 33-50 percent of people who have anorexia nervosa have comorbid mood disorder such as depression.
  • 1 in 5 anorexia nervosa deaths are by suicide

 

Statistics for Bulimia Nervosa:

  • 5 percent of American women have bulimia nervosa during their life
  • Nearly half of the bulimia patients have comorbid mood disorder
  • More than half have comorbid anxiety disorders

 

Statistics for Binge Eating Disorder (BED):

  • 8 percent of American adults have a binge eating disorder during their life
  • Half of the risk is genetic
  • Binge eating or loss-of-control eating may be 25 percent of higher in post-bariatric patients. 

 

SYMPTOMS OF EATING DISORDERS

If your loved one is experiencing any of these emotional or behavioral signs of an eating disorder, it is time to get them help.

  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Fear of eating in public
  • Fear of eating with others
  • Eating tiny portions or cutting up food in unusually small pieces and chewing for an extended period of time
  • Hoarding or hiding food
  • Leaving after eating (excusing his or herself to the bathroom)
  • Negative self-image or low self-esteem
  • No concern over extreme weight loss
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessive exercising

Symptoms of Eating DisordersYour loved one could also be at risk for mood and anxiety disorders, as well as substance abuse, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

 

Physical signs that you should watch out for include:

  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Stomach pains
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling cold
  • Sleep issues
  • Dental issues
  • Dry skin
  • Thinning hair

For more information of signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, click here.

 

MENSTRUAL IRREGULARITIES

Not having your period is called amenorrhea. This can lead to serious health issues including endometrial cancer or bone loss. This can occur when a woman engages in excessive exercise or restricts their food intake resulting in lower body mass than what is considered normal.

 

There are two types of amenorrhea, primary and secondary:

  • Primary: Menstrual periods never start
  • Secondary: Periods start, then stop

Usually if periods never start, girls do not go through puberty, and thus secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts and pubic hair, do not develop normally. If women have been having menstrual periods, which then stop, they may have secondary amenorrhea. Secondary amenorrhea is much more common than primary.

 

Warning signs and certain symptoms that are cause for concern:

  • Delayed puberty
  • Development of masculine characteristics, such as excess body hair, a deepened voice, and increased muscle size
  • Vision problems
  • An impaired sense of smell
  • A milky nipple discharge that occurs spontaneously
  • A significant change in weight 

An appointment should be made with a care provider. Doctors determine whether amenorrhea is primary or secondary. This information can help them identify the cause.

 

HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR LOVED ONE?

First, do not blame yourself and seek help for your loved one.

Recovery is a long process and requires a professional. Chances of recovery increase if it is treated earlier.

  • Realize that the process will be hard.
  • Ask your loved one if they need help making the first appointment.
  • Don’t buy their excuses.
  • Have your loved one make an appointment for a medical check-up.
  • If they don’t like the first medical professional, help them keep looking. It is important to find someone you like.
  • Be prepared for denial
  • Stay focused on the long-term goal and don’t lose confidence.
  • Be involved in their treatment plan.
  • Be open and communicative.

 

Here are a few tips to help you talk with your loved one:

  • Set up a private time and space to talk
  • Use “I” statements such as, “I am worried about you”
  • Make notes of what you want to say
  • Give them the facts such as the way their behavior has changed
  • Avoid saying, “Just eat”
  • Encourage them to seek help

 

PROMOTING SELF LOVE

You can be an example of self-love. Combat eating disorders by: 

  • Educating yourself. Learn what you can about eating disorders to avoid judgment
  • Avoid calling food “safe” or “good”
  • Discourage the concept that an diet led someone to be happier
  • Avoid judging others bodies
  • Lead by example and have a healthy self-image 

How Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown Can Help

At Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown, we care about women in all stages of their lives, and we want to help them live a healthy life.

If you need guidance with approaching this topic with your loved one or are in need of recommendations for counselors, please contact us today. You can also call the National Eating Disorder Hotline.