Most often, when we think of an eating disorder, we imagine someone who starves themselves. However, an eating disorder is actually any unhealthy relationship with food. Although, eating disorders usually fall into one of three categories. Below, we’ll explain these three categories and the symptoms someone might show if they are suffering from this particular disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

This disorder is often characterised by extreme weight loss through dieting and excessive exercise. A person suffering from anorexia will feel that they are never “thin enough”. No matter how much they starve themselves, they continue to see themselves as “fat”.

Common Signs:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Using clothing to hide their rapid weight loss
  • Refusing to eat certain food (especially fatty or carb-heavy foods)
  • Avoiding eating in front of others
  • Making food for others, but refusing to take part
  • Excessive exercise
  • Criticising their weight
  • Stopping menstruating
  • Complaining about pain in their stomach, or constipation
  • Denial that a person can be “too thin”

People with anorexia are often very good at hiding their symptoms, so it can be difficult to know that there is a problem before it becomes extreme. If you’re worried that your loved one has anorexia, you should get them evaluated by a doctor immediately. If anorexia is treated, most patients regain the weight, and the health problems go away. However, if left untreated, anorexia can cause serious complications and even organ failure.

Bulimia Nervosa:

Bulimia is when a person eats a large amount of food in a short time (binging) and then vomits, use laxatives, fasts, or exercises excessively to negate the large food intake (purging).

Unlike anorexia, bulimic people are often a normal weight. However, they share that same fear of gaining weight and harsh views of their own body. They see themselves as “fat” and want to lose weight. They often feel embarrassed about their bulimic behaviours, and thus a good at hiding them.

Common Signs:

  • Evidence of binging (finding wrappers or containers, or finding large amount of food missing)
  • Evidence of purging (trips the bathroom after meals, sounds and smells of puking, packages of laxatives/diuretics)
  • Not eating, or not eating much, in front of others
  • Excessive exercise
  • Using clothing to hide the body
  • Being critical of their weight
  • Frequent/excessive use of mints or gum
  • Constant dieting
  • Scarring on knuckles from a repeated induction of vomiting

When left untreated, bulimia can cause several health complications. Untreated Bulimia can result in abnormal heart rhythms, esophageal bleeding due to excessive exposure to stomach acid, dental issues, as well as kidney problems. Bulimia is very treatable, and it is essential that you seek help if you are someone you love it struggling with it.

Binge Eating Disorder:

A person with a binge eating disorder isn’t constantly eating. Rather, they have episodes where they binge eat. Like with bulimia, they will often feel out of control during these episodes and feel shameful afterwards. This becomes a vicious cycle in where they feel bad because they eat, and so they eat more to feel better. Unlike bulimia, there isn’t a purging period and so people with a binge eating disorder are often overweight or obese.

Common Signs:

  • Evidence of binging (finding wrappers or containers, or finding large amount of food missing)
  • Hoarding food, or finding food hidden in strange places
  • Using clothing to hide the body
  • Avoiding eating in front of others
  • Constantly dieting, but not losing weight

Binge eating leads to obesity and therefore has some serious health risks. Behavioural weight reductions programs can be helpful in learning to control the urge to binge eat. Binge eating disorder often occurs concurrently with depression and so treatment for that will help with the binge eating disorder. As in all cases with an eating disorder, if you or your loved one is struggling, seek out help.

Recognising the signs of an eating disorder is only the first step to getting well. These disorders are very treatable and with the proper treatment and a lot of support the majority of people regain control of their eating habits and go on to lead healthy lives.