Eating Disorders: D E F I N E D

Chances are that if you ask someone, “What’s an eating disorder,” they’ll respond with something about people who don’t eat (and maybe call it anorexia) and people who purge their food (and maybe call it bulimia).

The general public has a huge misunderstanding of what an eating disorder is, how it manifests in different people, and the damage these diseases are causing to our society. I don’t blame the Plain Jane’s and Average Joe’s for their misconceptions though, considering the funds that are invested in eating disorder research. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yet only 93 cents per person diagnosed with an eating disorder goes into U.S. Federal funded research. The numbers concern me, they really do. Yet what concerns me more are the hidden figures, the sufferers who don’t know they are suffering, simply because they haven’t been taught that what they’re feeling and doing isn’t normal, isn’t healthy, and isn’t ever going to make them happy.

In my last post, I discussed how the judgments and assumptions of our environments – who we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to be like, and how we’re supposed to look – contribute to this skewed thought process. Today, I want to define that skewed thought process for what it is.

eat·ing dis·or·der – noun – any range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits.

“Any range of psychological disorders.” I want to emphasize this because eating disorders are not and cannot be simply defined by 1) not eating or 2) vomiting. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, many behaviors, and various triggering thoughts. For example, over exercise. This, like vomiting, is a purging act. One eats a certain food or amount of foods they classify as “bad,” and he or she will push their body past the point of healthy physical activity as means of punishment. Or maybe a person’s eating disorder manifests only in thought. There does not need to be a physical behavior associated for someone to suffer from self-esteem issues, disordered thoughts, or negative body image. While chances are some abnormal or disturbed eating habits will stem from this, this person is still suffering regardless.

I fully believe that the first step in battling eating disorders is awareness. Awareness of what they are. Awareness that eating disorders don’t discriminate based on gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, financial status, or social class. Awareness that the person who you’d least expect to suffer from an eating disorder, could actually die from one. Awareness of the behaviors. And awareness of the warning signs.

By no means is this next portion meant to be used as a self-diagnosing scare tactic to try and convince you that you have an eating disorder. But when more than 30 million of our brothers and sisters suffer each day from the perils of this disease, we have to begin taking the steps to stopping it, and knowledge is power after all.

Emotional Warning Signs of Eating Disorders

o   Dresses in layers or baggy clothes to hide weight loss or stay warm o   Preoccupied with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, “macros,” and dieting
o   Refuses to eat certain foods, and progresses to restricting types of foods (i.e. no carbohydrates) o   Makes frequent comments about feeling fat or overweight (despite possible weight loss)
o   Complains of constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, being tired, and/or excess energy o   Evidence of purging behaviors (frequent trips to the bathroom, signs of vomiting, presence of laxatives, over-exercise)
o   Appears uncomfortable eating around others o   Develops food rituals
o   Frequent fad dieting o   Withdrawn from usual friends/activities
o   Frequent checking in mirror for perceived flaws o   Extreme mood swings

Physical Warning Signs of Eating Disorders

o   Noticeable fluctuations in weight o   Impaired immune function
o   Menstrual irregularities o   Difficulty concentrating
o   Sleeping problems o   Dizziness
o   Fainting o   Feeling cold all the time
o   Stomach cramps or other gastrointestinal complaints o   Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
o   Dental problems o   Dry skin/dry and brittle nails
o   Swelling around area of salivary glands o   Fine hair on body/thinning of head hair
o   Muscle weakness o   Yellow skin
o   Poor wound healing o   Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts)


Risk Factors


  • Having a close relative with an eating disorder
  • Family history of mental health conditions
  • Female sex
  • History of dieting
  • Negative energy balance (over-exercise)
  • Type One Diabetes


  • Perfectionism
  • Body image dissatisfaction
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Behavioral inflexibility


  • Size and weight prejudice
  • Weight-based teasing or bullying
  • Thin ideal internalization
  • Acculturation
  • Smaller social networks

Eating disorders are too common to remain uneducated about. They are too hurtful to our loved ones, and they take far too many lives from this world. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, please reach out. It’s hard to ask for help, it’s uncomfortable to let people in, and it’s overwhelming to picture a life without these disabling thoughts and behaviors; but there are so many people, like us, wanting you to achieve health and balance in all facets of your life (and knowing you can). If you are struggling with several of the eating disorder signs and symptoms listed above but are still unsure if you have an eating disorder, call us for a free eating disorder screening.

“An eating disorder is an illness that tells us we don’t have the illness, and that aspect of it (denial) keeps many of us alone. If food and weight make your life unmanageable, if you are just functioning and not truly living, then you deserve help.” – Jenni Schaefer, goodbye ed, hello me.


    Written by Madeleine White 




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s