Today’s society places tremendous importance on body size and shape. People of all ages are consumed with physical beauty. With celebrities flaunting their lives on social media, magazines showing photoshopped, airbrushed models, and television shows creating flawless fictional characters, it’s easy for anyone to become obsessed with his or her own appearance.
Unfortunately, this obsession can sometimes lead to unhealthy and harmful behaviors like eating disorders. Eating disorders are quite common in the United States. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from some type of eating disorder in the U.S. alone. What’s worse is that every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.
The media typically portrays a person with an eating disorder as young, female, thin, and pale. However, eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race, age, or social status. And, people who binge or overeat are often dismissed as being weak or gluttonous when in fact they’re often struggling with an eating disorder.
Educating yourself on different types of eating disorders and how they can affect your loved ones could ultimately make all the difference in the world. Whether you’re concerned for a loved one or want to learn how to spot the potential signs of eating disorders in students or young athletes, here are some common signs and behaviors.
Negative Body Image
A person who suffers from an eating disorder will most likely have a negative body image. While many young adults struggle with body image, it’s important to recognize when that struggle becomes something more serious. Some warning signs of extreme body image issues may include:
- Speaking negatively about weight or overall appearance
- Rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss or weight gain
- Obsessing about clothing size
- Criticizing the same body parts over and over again
Athletes Under the Radar
It’s quite common for a person who suffers from an eating disorder to exercise compulsively. But there is another issue here — athletes can suffer from eating disorders, but these cases often go unnoticed. Many people simply chalk up athletes’ frantic exercise as training to excel in their sport, but this isn’t always true. As with body image, it’s important to know when training becomes an obsession. If an individual passes that threshold, he or she may exhibit the following signs:
- Preferring to train or exercise rather than spend time with friends or family
- Exercising compulsively, often for several hours every day
- Chronic injuries
- Training while injured or unwell
- Obsession about losing or gaining weight
Food and Eating Behaviors
Every individual sees food in a different way, but individuals with eating disorders may have a negative or obsessive relationship with food. If you’re concerned about an individual’s food consumption or their relationship with food, check for these warning signs:
- Hoarding large amounts of food
- Self-enforcing a restrictive diet
- Using prescription stimulant medications to suppress appetite or purge food
- Avoiding social situations where food may be present
- Skipping meals on a regular basis
- Refusing to eat former favorite foods
- Visiting the bathroom after every meal or snack
- Reluctance to touch food on their plate
- Binging at regular intervals
Some people will demonstrate eating disorder behaviors that don’t fit neatly into a diagnosis like anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. For example, a person with atypical anorexia nervosa presents with significant weight loss but his or her weight is within the normal range. It’s important to know that patients who have a feeding or eating disorder get proper treatment and support to reduce the risk of developing a far more serious condition.
Kim Travis is the director of marketing at EDCare, an Eating Disorder Treatment center that offers comprehensive care for athletes with eating disorders.