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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

These Eating Disorders Can Hide in Plain Sight

Posted By: Advancing Care

Medically reviewed by Catherine Daniels-Brady, MD

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions characterized by distorted attitudes toward food, body weight and shape. They can affect people of all weights, sizes, ages, gender identities and backgrounds.

There are several types of eating disorders, each with its own set of symptoms that may be hard to recognize. Learn about the three most common eating disorders so you can recognize their symptoms in a loved one and know how to help.

Common eating disorders

Anorexia nervosa:

  • Extreme restriction of food intake
  • Intense fear of gaining weight, even if underweight
  • Distorted body image and preoccupation with food, dieting and body size

Bulimia nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, involving consuming large amounts of food in short periods and often accompanied by a lack of control during the episode
  • Behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise or fasting
  • Preoccupation with body shape and weight

Binge-eating disorder:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, similar to bulimia, but without regular use of compensatory behaviors
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal, eating until uncomfortably full, eating when not hungry or hiding when eating
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or distress after binge-eating episodes

Recognizing the symptoms

Recognizing these symptoms can be challenging because individuals with eating disorders often go to great lengths to hide their behaviors. However, some general signs that may indicate an eating disorder include:

  • Drastic weight changes: Significant weight loss or gain without a clear medical cause
  • Obsession with food, dieting or body image: Constantly talking about food, calories, dieting or expressing dissatisfaction with one's body
  • Changes in eating habits: Extreme dieting, avoiding meals or engaging in ritualistic eating behaviors
  • Physical signs: Fatigue, dizziness, weakness, thinning hair and changes in skin and nail health
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social activities, especially those involving food

If you suspect that someone may be struggling with an eating disorder, try to listen to them and encourage them to seek professional help from a healthcare provider, therapist or counselor specialized in eating disorders. WMCHealth has one of New York State’s largest behavioral health service programs. Please visit Bon Secours Medical Group and WMCHealth Physicians for behavioral health services convenient to you.