Have you noticed a shift in your relationship with food? You may even be thinking, “Do I have an eating disorder?” If you’re reading this blog, you are likely starting to notice that how you think about food and body is getting in the way of living your life. I decided to write this blog to outline some signs and symptoms of eating disorders that are often overlooked. Or are often seen as “normal” in our disordered wellness culture.
While this blog can be used as a tool to assess signs/symptoms you may be experiencing, it cannot and should not be used as a diagnostic tool. Please note. If you or a loved one are struggling with any of the below, please consider seeking help.
I also want to note that this blog doesn’t highlight all the signs/symptoms of an eating disorder. So, if you’re reading this blog and none of this resonates, your struggle is still valid. You deserve to get support and improve your relationship with food.
Our dietitians at Courage to Nourish would love to be a resource for you. And if we can’t help, we are happy to refer you to other resources.
Do I have an eating disorder? Here are some of the signs and symptoms:
Do you spend the majority of your time thinking about food?
I like to describe “thinking about food” as background noise or static. It’s possible that food isn’t always at the front of your mind, but it might always or most of the time exist as background noise. As a result, this takes away from the energy you can spend on thinking about other things – whether that’s your job or school or loved ones.
Think about it this way. If you created a pie chart of all the things you spend your time doing/thinking about, what percent would be food/body image/exercise? What percent would be family/friends? What percent would be school/work? If you notice that food is too big of a slice on that pie chart, you may be struggling with your relationship with food.
Are you anxious about going out to eat with loved ones?
Going out to eat is an enjoyable and fun experience! We bond over food and some of us have strong, positive memories that are tied to food traditions. When an eating disorder develops, many experience increased anxiety over eating out. You might find yourself making excuses to not join family/friends at restaurants. You might even find yourself eating beforehand or leaving early to avoid eating. This is a sign of a tenuous relationship with food. I don’t want you to miss out on fun experiences and bonding with your loved ones!
Have you experienced any of the following signs of malnutrition? Such as feeling cold, fatigue, dizziness, GI issues (constipation for example), dry skin, brittle nails, loss of a period and/or inconsistent periods…
Firstly, I want to make it clear that people who experience malnutrition do not have to be thin or “underweight.” People can experience these signs and symptoms regardless of body size. Additionally, not everyone will experience physical signs and if that’s you, your struggle is still valid. And you still deserve to heal.
If you are experiencing any of the above, it’s possible this is a physical manifestation of an eating disorder. All of these symptoms will improve with consistent and regular nutrition.
Do you spend time planning out meals for the day, the week or month? Do you feel anxious when those meals don’t go according to plan?
One sign of disordered eating is rigidity around food and meal planning. It’s normal to have some sense of what you’re going to eat for the day, but it’s also normal for those plans to change. A person with a positive relationship with food is able to easily switch gears and eat what is presented to them. For example, donuts brought into the office, dessert for a friend’s birthday, attending a last minute dinner…etc.
Have you noticed an increase in anxiety or depression? Isolation from friends/family?
Eating disorders manifest through food behaviors. These behaviors usually exist to cope with anxiety, depression or other emotions. Not only that, but oftentimes engaging in ED behaviors can cause an increase in anxiety or depression.
While isolating from friends/family and an increase in anxiety, depression or other emotions, isn’t always a sign of an eating disorder, it can absolutely be a part of the ED’s manifestation. The combination of an increase in anxiety, depression & isolating AND food related behaviors could be the start of an ED.
PS if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, stressed, scared or isolated without food behaviors, you still deserve to get support. It may be time to seek out a therapist.
Is your self esteem closely entwined with your body image?
If you were having a “bad” body image day, would you skip a work interview? Would you stay home instead of meeting friends? Would you change your outfit multiple times? Is it more difficult to be social?
Body image fluctuates from day to day. And that is 100% normal. However, body image should not dictate how we live our lives. It’s important to live a fulfilling life and to take part in enjoyable activities regardless of how you feel your look on any given day.
Do you spend energy “body checking?”
First, let’s define body checking. Body checking is the process and habit of regularly seeking information about your body’s weight, shape, or appearance. It acts as a way to reassure yourself that your body is not changing (or it’s getting smaller). While body checking can sometimes lower anxiety in the moment, it increases anxiety about our bodies in the long run. Body checking causes you to expend too much energy about your body and actually increases negative thoughts about yourself.
Does restricting, bingeing, purging or exercising help you cope/feel better/numb?
Eating disorders act as a coping mechanism. Therefore, they act as a safety net. And it’s common in eating disorders to use behaviors to cope, to feel better, as a punishment or to numb.
Do I engage in eating disorder behaviors including but not limited to restricting, bingeing, purging, compulsive or over exercise….etc?
Engaging in any of the behaviors above is a sign of an eating disorder. I didn’t list all ED behaviors above. However, if you use behaviors to manipulate your food and body or if you feel out of control around food/exercise or if you think about food very often, it might be time to get support.
Now. Let’s talk about weight. Eating disorders are often closely intertwined with conversations about weight loss and malnutrition. But you may have noticed, I have not named weight loss as one of the signs/symptoms of anorexia. While a change in body size can sometimes be a sign of an eating disorder, it isn’t always. People can struggle with anorexia without weight loss. People can struggle with anorexia regardless of body size, gender, ethnicity, race or age. Whether or not your body has changed, if you’re struggling with any of the above, consider getting support for your relationship with food.
If you read this blog, and any of the above resonates with you, please reach out. Courage to Nourish is a team of compassionate and knowledgeable dietitians who want to help. If you’re feeling hesitant, I totally understand. We offer 15 minute “discovery calls.” You can ask questions and get to know your dietitian before meeting with her.
If you’re not ready to schedule an appointment, click here to head to our resources page. It could be helpful to browse a few recovery resources before taking the next step.
Helping my clients cultivate meaningful connections and interests outside of their eating disorder is a true passion of mine. I like to think my clients and I are on a team to navigate recovery. I love working with high school and college students as well as athletes seeking to have a better relationship with exercise. I am a proud anti-diet dietitian and work with my clients through a Health At Every Size © and intuitive eating framework.