7 Signs Of An Eating Disorder

Whether it’s easier to justify certain behaviors surrounding food or harder to admit that your eating habits aren’t healthy, noting signs of an eating disorder is crucial. The earlier you can acknowledge that your behaviors and mindset regarding food intake are harmful, the more time you have for timely intervention and treatment.

While every eating disorder is specific in its behaviors, here are seven signs you may have an eating disorder:

1. You Restrict Your Food Intake

The number one sign of an eating disorder is restriction around food intake. This not only applies to how much one eats but also includes a lack of food variety and other restrictive behaviors. Food restriction can present in habits like obsessively checking nutrition labels and labeling foods as good or bad, with “safe foods” often being low-calorie. This is a dangerous practice that can lead to nutritional deficiencies and organ failure.

Many eating disorders center on the feeling of control (or the lack thereof). You may choose to deprive yourself of sweet treats, or you may “allow” yourself to have a whole bag of chips, with plans to purge after. This control can present as misplaced pride for someone with an ED. For example, you may sit in a group of people and feel as though you have more self-control because you are eating less than others. You’ve forgotten that a balanced life comes with mindfulness, not control.

2. You Prefer To Eat Alone

Eating in public or with friends becomes increasingly difficult because it’s hard to remain sociable while meticulously noting the food you consume. Because of this, you may show up late to avoid the appetizers or be the person who always has an excuse as to why you’re not eating a full meal.

Removing oneself from the group during mealtimes or preferring to eat every meal alone is a top sign of disordered eating. This preference is often based on a fear of judgment from others or from knowing, deep down, that your eating habits are a cause for concern. For this reason, eating in front of others may bring up uncomfortable feelings, like shame or guilt.

A preference to eat alone can also hide a tendency to reconstruct your food, like cutting and minimizing it into smaller pieces. This is seen in halved bananas, burgers without the bun, or ripping off excess tortilla. For many with an ED, no meal can be eaten as prepared.

3. You Have An Intense Fear Of Gaining Weight

Most people with eating disorders have a distorted perception of their body weight or shape and feel the need to lose weight or maintain the low body weight they’ve obtained. Common distorted thought patterns include the idea that you are still overweight even when you’re thin, which can lead to the dangerous restrictive eating patterns already discussed.

The fear of gaining weight (obesophobia) can make a person go to extremes to lose weight or prevent weight gain, including intensely criticizing their bodies and skipping meals. If you find yourself partaking in any of these activities out of fear of gaining weight, it might be time to seek help.

4. You Exercise Excessively

Though exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, excessive exercise can lead to adverse physical and mental consequences, such as an increase in anxiety and a heightened risk of muscle injury. If exercise becomes a person’s primary focus due to the desire to lose weight or the fear of gaining weight, it can be a sign of an eating disorder. Some may use extreme exercise to control weight, providing a false sense of control in your life.

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5. You Drink Excessively

Many with eating disorders drink liquids in excessive amounts, whether it be water, coffee, or alcohol. Coffee gives energy, fills up your stomach when hungry, and can act as a diarrhetic, all viewed as positives for someone struggling with an eating disorder. People may drink multiple cups a day because it’s easy for others to overlook how much you’re consuming.

Similarly, and especially in young adults with EDs, preferring to drink alcohol in lieu of a meal is common. While calorie-dense, alcohol leaves people feeling full, and when one’s intoxicated, it can often dull hunger cues.

If you notice that you reach for sparkling water or a cup of tea to quell hunger pains, it could signify a deeper struggle.

6. You Withdraw From Social Activities

For those with eating disorders, it’s increasingly difficult to adjust to events that involve eating and drinking. This is often due to a preoccupation you may have that prevents you from ever fully feeling engaged. You may never feel attached to anything for longer than an hour or two because your eating disorder has become the main focus of your life, making it difficult for other priorities to compete. Take note if you are turning down invitations from friends or avoiding work events because it feels easier to be alone due to food restrictions; that can be a sign of an eating disorder.

7. You’re Constantly Tired

Eating disorders are exhausting mentally, but they take a physical toll as well. Whether bingeing or restricting – the body is trying to keep up, and if you aren’t nourishing it properly, there are side effects, such as headaches and lightheadedness.

A study from the Current Psychiatry Reports journal identified the circular relationship between eating disorders and sleep, finding that insomnia increases the risk of developing an eating disorder, while an eating disorder leads to disrupted sleep. Results also vary by type of eating disorder. The restrictive diets of those with anorexia cause more hormonal and metabolic disturbances, resulting in poorer sleep. At the same time, those with bulimic habits suffer from low electrolyte levels, leading to sleep disturbances.

If you’re uncommonly tired and feeling the mental effects associated with sleep deprivation (e.g., brain fog, irritability, trouble focusing, etc.), it could be tied to your unhealthy eating patterns.

Talk To Someone Today

While everybody is different, exhibiting all or some of these common signs could indicate that you may have an eating disorder and that it’s time to seek help. Online therapy can provide the support and treatment beneficial for those with eating disorders like cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Explore our online therapy directory today to get started.

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Jessica Sherer

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  • Jessica Sherer earned her B.A. in English from Ashford University and has over eight years of copyediting experience in healthcare education. Dedicated to providing clear and useful information, she hopes her work will help to support those affected by addiction.

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