Big shout out to Komal Shah who helped to write this blog!! She was a dietetic intern for us for a few weeks
Believe it or not. It’s summertime. This summer is going to feel a little different than any other summer we’ve had, due to a thing called coronavirus (heard of it?), hopefully we’ll be able to find some time to enjoy the nice weather. Perhaps we can have BBQs with a small group of friends or sit outside to read or hang by a pool.
As your loved ones visit or are home for the summer, this might be a time to look out for eating disorder red flags. It’s possible you might have started to see some of these warning signs with your family staying at home. If so, consider making an appointment with an eating disorder dietitian and/or therapist.
So, we wanted to write a blog about eating disorder warning signs for family and loved ones to keep in mind. Eating disorders can be subtle and sneaky. Just a reminder that these are red flags regardless of the weight, shape or size of your body! And regardless of ethnicity, age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Eating disorders do not discriminate.
Here are some “red flags” to look out for.
- Cutting out foods or food groups.
Is your loved one cutting out foods they used to love? Or eliminating food groups? Or no longer eating snacks or desserts? Oftentimes, if someone is struggling with their relationship with food, they may avoid foods their ED defines as “bad.” Looking out for changes in eating habits might indicate your loved one needing more support. This can be so, so tough because our culture views certain changes in diet as “healthy.” However, little changes can quickly become black and white thinking, which contributes to a good food/bad food mentality, this mentality could be an eating disorder warning sign. The more rules we have about food the further away we get from intuitive eating.
- Increased talk about food/nutrition/weight.
If your loved one has a sudden interest in food, exercise and talking about “health,” it’s possible they might be struggling with something deeper. Eating disorders tend to make the idea of health more complicated. And oftentimes clients are sacrificing mental health to aim for an impossible physical health pedestal.
- Changes in affect.
While eating disorders affect both physical and mental aspects of wellbeing, many people who struggle with eating disorders might not “look” like the stereotype associated with an ED. That stereotype? The thin, malnourished, white, young woman. It’s important that loved ones do not use the physical body to judge whether a relationship with food is positive or not. Many, if not all, individuals who struggle with their relationships with food will have a change in their affect. For example, perhaps your loved one gets angry when food plans are changed. Or perhaps you’ve noticed your loved one is more withdrawn, this could be an eating disorder warning sign. Use your intuition. If something feels off, it’s very possible it is.
- Changes in exercise habits.
Increasing exercise or movement to change how our bodies look can actually be a sign of a disordered relationship with food, despite what our culture might say. Exercising to change body size, leads to increased anxiety surrounding food and body image. Therefore, I would recommend becoming attuned to your loved ones “normal” exercise habits. And notice if they have changed.
- Bullied at school because of size.
Bullying in school is absolutely terrible and sad. I’ve heard so many stories from my clients who were (and are) bullied in school because of their size. It breaks my heart. If you’ve found out that your child is being bullied at school, talk to a guidance counselor, vice principal, or principal. It also may be helpful to begin therapy for your child for them to have a safe space to discuss and process the bullying. And remember. If your child is being bullied because of their size, changing their body isn’t the answer. As that can likely lead to long term self esteem struggles and dieting.
If you’re concerned that your loved one may be struggling with their relationship with food and body. Here are some things to consider if they are showing any eating disorder warning signs:
- Talk with your loved ones.
Share your concerns and let your loved one know you are here for them whenever they are ready to talk. It’s 100% possible your loved one might not want to discuss their food fears. You can let your loved one know you are available if and when they feel ready to talk. If there is something you don’t understand, ask your loved one if it’s okay to ask them questions. And listen to their feedback.
- Be an example.
Set an example by modeling intuitive eating. Show your loved one it’s acceptable to enjoy a wide variety of foods and to give yourself permission to eat. Above all, it’s important to be mindful about how you discuss food, weight, body image and exercise. And try to maintain a neutral and/or positive stance about these topics.
- Reach out to health professionals for recovery.
Moreover, a recovery team can support you and your loved one in navigating the recovery process. Typically, a team consists of a dietitian, therapist, doctor, and psychiatrist. It’s important that professionals on this team have eating disorder experience. Reach out to us at Courage to Nourish for more information. We’d be happy to support you or a loved one and direct you to other resources as needed. Visit our contact us page to schedule a discovery call.
is an eating disorder dietitian in private practice in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex specializes in treating individuals struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. She practices from an intuitive eating model and enjoys working with individuals to improve body image. She is a passionate Health at Every Size © advocate and anti-diet dietitian. Alex provides eating disorder nutrition counseling in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex's College Park office is walking distance from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Instagram: @courage.to.nourish