Eating disorders are a serious, complex illness. Unfortunately, they are usually poorly understood even though they can be serious and potentially life-threatening. Those who suffer from eating disorders may not even realise, because they can manifest in so many different ways. Eating disorders are as unique as the individual themselves. Nevertheless, early intervention is vital for successful recovery.
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Creator of Fit and Fiesty app, Sarah Rav shares 5 non-physical signs that may indicate that someone you know is suffering from disordered eating.
1. They are obsessive over their food intake
This might be hard to spot, but if your loved one thinks or talks about food constantly, start to pay more attention. “Obsessive” means that they worry about what they eat as soon as they wake up, until they go to sleep. They plan exactly what they’re going to eat each day and don’t let themselves stray from that plan. This means that they may decline absolutely anything you offer them to try, or even decline spontaneous offers to catch up over a meal. If they do somehow eat something unplanned, they might express feelings of guilt or failure.
2. They won’t eat certain foods
Do they label certain foods as “unhealthy” or “off-limits”? Or do they crave certain foods like crazy, but then absolutely shut down any offer to go and have those foods? On the odd occasion when they do allow themselves to indulge, are they suddenly filled with self-loathing and guilt? They may play it over again and again in their mind. They may drink a lot of water, exercise more than usual or even skip/restrict the next few meals to “make up for it”.
3. They become a social recluse
They constantly make excuses as to why they can’t meet you for lunch. However, this may be because they’re actually terrified of eating out due to the lack of control over exactly what goes into their meal. They may also stop going to parties or social events that go too late, because they’re scared that they’ll be too tired to work-out at their usual intensity the next morning (thus burning less calories than usual), or because they’re scared that they might fall into a binge-eating episode late at night.
4. They’re moody and irritable
If your loved one is constantly starving and exhausted, or believes that they have to continue doing this for the rest of their life, or think everyone who makes a remark about their eating habits is attacking them, it’s going to start to show in their attitude. The smallest thing might send them into a rage. Furthermore, it might seem like ages since they’ve really smiled or laughed, because nothing seems to make them happy or fill them with delight any longer.
5. They have no energy
Does your loved one complain of every day feeling like a struggle? Even getting out of bed might make them short of breath. This tends to be more apparent towards the end of the disease, but take note if your loved one seems to be less energetic, takes longer to do tasks than they previously did, or seems to need a lot more sleep each night.
If you believe that your loved one can relate to any of these signs, please reach out to them. I would advise you not to be confrontational. Instead, make it apparent that you are coming from a place of concern and that you purely want to listen, to understand what they are going through and to support them. If possible, prompt them to seek professional help, but if they are opposed to the idea, don’t push it. You don’t want them to lose your trust.
Instead, emphasise that there is absolutely no shame in suffering from an eating disorder. It is a deadly, terrible disease and your loved one is not to blame for being caught up in it. Although it can be a scary thing realising and admitting that you have an eating disorder, tell them that it is the first step towards recovery. It is the first step towards liberation and happiness. Continue to be there for them, and continue to encourage them to see a GP or psychologist.
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