As Eating Disorders are very serious physical and psychological complications they can impact severely on a person’s mental and physical health which in turn end up impacting negatively on every aspect of a person’s life – their studies, friendships, relationships and career. Eating Disorders are not a phase or a fad, or something that someone will grow out of and therefore they should be taken seriously, especially as Eating disorders are the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses.
As each case is different what one person experiences may be different to another, which is why seeking professional support is so important for all sufferers in order for the journey of recovery to begin. Warning signs are reflected physically, behaviourally, and psychologically.
It is important to be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder. If you or someone you know are experiencing these symptoms it may mean that you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, or be experiencing one already. It is important to seek help and support as soon as possible for an eating disorder, as it has been shown that early intervention allows the chances of a shorter recovery time.
If you are concerned about a friend or family member, understanding what Eating Disorders are and are not and being aware of the warning signs can help you to support a person you care about to seek support, helping them to move to a much more positive and healthy place.
Here are some possible warning signs:
- Rapid changes in weight (loss or gains)
- Avoiding socialising, especially when eating is involved
- Preoccupation with food and weight (counting calories, recipes, cooking but not eating, constant commenting
- about people’s weight and their own)
- Feeling consistently cold with poor circulation
- Poor sleep quality, tiredness
- Increasing isolation and loss of friends
- Frequent self weighing
- Excessive or extreme exercise
- Secretive behaviour and covering up the truth
- Changes in eating patterns, such as restrictive eating or reporting of food allergies or vegetarianism
- Dieting to lose weight
- Trips to the bathroom after meals
- Body image disturbance
- Perfectionism and self criticism
- Life centres around food and need for control
- Depression, anxiety and moodiness
Please remember that Eating Disorders are not just about food or weight, they develop as a result of serious underlying issues and concerns. Food, exercise and other self punishing behaviours are the way in which the intense negative feelings and emotions are managed.
Why people develop eating disorders is highly complex.
There is no one single cause. Although eating disorders appear to be solely about weight, they are much more complicated and involve complex emotions and very low self esteem. Although eating disorders are usually developed during adolescence, the truth is, eating disorders and negative body image cut across all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, ages and genders. 1 in 4 children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male and children as young as 7 and adults as old as 70 have been diagnosed with eating disorders.
Eating disorders are a way of coping with difficult feelings, emotions and situations. They are often a sign that things are not right in your life and that you need some help. As stated, there is never one single cause or reason for developing an eating disorder. It is more likely to be a whole series of events which contribute to making you feel that you are unable to manage what’s going on in your life. Contributing factors can be relationship breakdowns, family problems and other highly emotional situations. Today’s fast paced environment has also altered the experiences of growing up and life in modern society. We live in a world that places a high level of importance on appearance driven in part by celebrity culture, the media and instant social connectivity.
The average child in Australia sees between 20,000 and 40,000 television advertisements per year. They are bombarded with images about how they should look and see between 2000-5000 photoshopped images in a week. This alone is altering the perception of young people and what they think ‘normal’ looks like. Perfection has become the new normal and not even the celebrities can live up to the images in which they appear.
To suggest that the media is responsible for someone developing an eating disorder would trivialise the seriousness of this mental and physical illness. However when it comes to negative body image, it is well researched that imagery used in the media can contribute to body dissatisfaction and feelings of inadequacy in people of all ages.