Eating disorders are complex conditions that can have varying symptoms and presentations from person to person. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5 (DSM – 5) classifies eight different types of eating disorders; Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Pica, Rumination Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), and Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED). All of these diagnoses share a common symptom which is a disruption in one’s relationship to food.
While it is important to treat all eating disorders as unique, there are many common symptoms that are shared across each diagnosis and can include the following:
- Constant intrusive thoughts surrounding food – These thoughts may often get in the way of normal functioning and can involve uncomfortable feelings like fear, anxiety, and may become obsessive.
- Rapid weight loss, gain, or frequent weight changes – While individuals with an eating disorder may not experience any significant changes to or shape, it can be a common symptom and red flag for a disruption in eating behaviors.
- Distorted and or negative body image – Many individuals with an eating disorder report having a poor relationship with their body and a desire to change it in some way. If your feelings around your weight or shape have shifted, it may be a good time to think about seeking further support from an eating disorder or body image specialist.
- Eating in private and avoiding meals with others – This symptom often gains attention from friends and family more than any other. Isolating during mealtime, avoiding the cafeteria or dining hall or coming up with excuses as to why you are not hungry can be indicative of a more serious problem. Eating in secrecy is also a tell-tale sign of an eating disorder and can result from strong feelings of shame, guilt or embarrassment.
- Rigid “black & white” thinking about food, weight and/or shape – Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” is very common for those living with eating disorders. Unfortunately, our society has a huge play in how we view foods and often will label things for us, but the disruptive eating disorder thoughts take it to the next level. Retraining the thought process and education about an all foods fit approach can help someone break through these rigid thoughts.
These are a few symptoms associated with eating disorders, but not all of these symptoms will be indicative of an eating disorder. An individual living with an eating disorder may not display all, or even any, of these signs. Eating disorders are very serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors.
If you or someone you love may be engaging in eating disordered behaviors, please reach out to us for help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of full physical and emotional recovery.
Jessica Walther is the Engagement and Special Projects Manager at Walden Behavioral Care. Jessica has worked in the eating disorder field for over a decade and has a strong passion for education and advocacy for mental health, specifically eating disorders. She has worn many hats in the eating disorder field over the years and has built relationships on a national level as she works with leaders in the community to help make treatment accessible to everyone.