Health These are the signs of an eating disorder: the ones you know...

These are the signs of an eating disorder: the ones you know and the ones you don’t

(CNN) — For a disease that affects so many people, there are many misconceptions about eating disorders, experts say.

Eating disorders affect nearly 1 in 10 people worldwide, according to the non-profit organization ANAD, which offers support services to people with them.

However, in a culture dominated by fat shaming and restrictive eating, it can be easy for behaviors related to eating disorders to become normalized, said Jennifer Rollin, founder of the Center for Eating Disorders in Rockville, Maryland.

But these disorders threaten a happy and healthy life, he added. As Eating Disorders Awareness Week kicks off, experts share their thoughts on what eating disorders are, what to look for, and what to do if you think you see one.

What defines an eating disorder?

Simply put, an “eating disorder is a psychiatric disorder, characterized by abnormalities in eating and eating behavior that cause significant impairment in one’s ability to function normally,” said Stuart Murray, associate professor of Psychiatry. and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California (USC) and director of the Laboratory for Translational Research in Eating Disorders.

More specifically, eating disorders are biopsychosocial illnesses, added Leah Graves, vice president of Nutrition and Culinary Services at Accanto Health, a healthcare system for treating eating disorders.

Inherited traits, as well as psychological factors like temperament and personality, and social factors like bullying, stigma and trauma come together to contribute to someone developing an eating disorder, he added.

But just because people with eating disorders run in your family and have hereditary predispositions doesn’t mean they’ll develop a disorder, Graves said.

What is not an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are not a choice, said Lauren Smolar, vice president of Mission and Education for the National Eating Disorders Association.

Some may suggest that people with eating disorders simply change their eating habits and then they will be cured, but the problem runs much deeper, Smolar said.

Eating disorders can affect anyone, and they’re not reserved for young, well-off, white women, as stereotypes often portray, said USC’s Murray.

Nor are they part of a fad or an attempt to lose a few pounds for a wedding or for Instagram photos, Murray added. Attempts to change shape or weight related to eating disorders are ubiquitous and repetitive and have a significant impact on a person’s life, she said.

Even if the behaviors don’t fall under a diagnosable eating disorder, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Eating disorders are “a constellation of eating-related behaviors that deviate from what is considered typical eating and can seriously disrupt a person’s ability to function normally,” Murray added.

anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is generally characterized by weight loss and often involves a severe restriction around the number of calories eaten and an intense fear of gaining weight, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

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Warning signs of this disorder include overestimation of figure and weight, strict rules around food, checking ingredients, secrecy, and avoidance of social situations related to food and the body, according to Murray.

bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a cyclical disorder in which a person binge eats and then compensates with purgative behaviors such as vomiting or taking laxatives, according to the Association.

People with bulimia tend to go to the bathroom right after eating or say they’re going to work harder at the gym if they’ve eaten a lot, Murray explained. They may also use laxatives or diuretics, he added.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating is one of the most common forms of eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a person eats large amounts of food quickly and often to the point of discomfort.

It sounds like what many of us do from time to time, especially on holidays or special occasions, Murray said. But this disorder is characterized by a loss of control over eating, he added. And he is surrounded by shame and secrecy.

Avoidant and Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant and restricted eating disorder, also called ARFID, is one of the newer eating disorders, according to Graves of Accanto Health.

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This disorder is characterized by avoiding food groups, Murray said. It can be misconstrued as “being a picky eater,” but it’s a bigger problem, she added.

People with this disorder may show a lack of interest in food, avoid specific sensory characteristics of food, or worry about the consequences of eating, such as vomiting or choking, explained Rollin, of the Center for Eating Disorders.

Typically, people with ARFID have a small variety of foods that they are comfortable with and become distressed when leaving that comfort zone, he added.

This can cause problems meeting their energy or nutritional needs and can lead to weight loss, delayed growth, or problems with psychological and social functioning, Rollin explained.

Other eating disorders

Other Specific Eating, Eating, and Eating Disorders (OSFED) is a diagnosis given when someone has a major eating disorder, but the behavior may not exactly match the diagnostic criteria for the conditions mentioned above, Smolar explained.

There are also behaviors commonly discussed but not yet diagnosed in the medical community.

Orthorexia, for example, is a term used to describe a fixation on eating in a way that a person determines to be healthy, but which is excessively rigid and can cause stress in situations where you have to deviate from your plans, Rollin said.

Muscle dysmorphia is considered a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder, but it often describes a pattern in which people engage in behaviors similar to anorexia or bulimia nervosa, such as restricting calories, following rigid rules, and engaging in strenuous exercise, as well as controlling protein intake to achieve a muscular body, Murray explained.

How to get help?

If you see these concerning behaviors in someone you care about, have a compassionate, nonjudgmental conversation by explaining what behaviors you’re noticing, Graves said.

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If you’re concerned about your own behavior, it’s important to seek professional help, Rollin said. He recommended going to therapists specialized in eating disorders, so they can make evaluations and recommend which other professionals to go to.

You can also try the National Eating Disorders Association’s screening tool, designed to help people ages 13 and older determine if it’s time to seek help.

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