Is It a Diet–or an Eating Disorder?

Let’s get on the same page about anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and overeating for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Eating disorder statistics show that they affect 10 to 15 percent of us, yet only a tenth goes for help. And with the highest mortality rate of any behavioral disorder–between 10 and 20 percent–it’s important to know what an eating disorder is and how to recognize eating disorder symptoms.

Occasionally overindulging or skipping a meal is not a bad sign, but habitually consuming extremely small or large portions is cause for concern. Someone may start out by consuming somewhat smaller or larger amounts, but the urge to eat less or more can spiral out of control, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Eating disorders often appear during adolescence or young adulthood, but they can also develop earlier or later.

Those with eating disorders usually have poor self-esteem and are preoccupied by a distorted body image; can’t concentrate; experience increased irritability, depression and/or anxiety; are isolated; and/or have a “flat” affect.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Physical signs can be denial of hunger; excessive or rapid weight change that is otherwise unexplained; soft, downy body hair (called lanugo); dry skin; frequently feeling cold; low blood pressure; abdominal pain/constipation; and loss of menstrual cycle.

Tell-tale behaviors include limited or atypical eating habits with increasing restriction on what’s “allowed” or “healthy”; skipping meals or hiding/discarding food; using the bathroom frequently or during meals; and using laxatives, diuretics (water pills) or so-called “diet” products to regulate weight. A preoccupation with food, excessive exercise and frequent weigh-ins are other warning signs.

If you or a loved one experiences any of these, seek help now. Find local support groups and contact your physician, school nurse or healthcare facility to learn about treatment options and next steps. Learn more at Something Fishy or the National Eating Disorders Association, or call the Eating Disorders Center of Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York at 718-470-4747.

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