Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that most frequently affects women, and it is estimated that up to one percent of the female population may suffer from it at times during their lives. People who have anorexia nervosa engage in self-starvation, and the effects can be severe. In fact, anorexia has one of the highest fatality rates of any mental health condition.
Unfortunately, the disorder can be tricky to spot at first, especially because people are often very sneaky about the ways they go about avoiding food. However, the information below will explain some of the telltale signs of the disorder.
Becoming more knowledgeable about them may help you assist a friend in getting help, or allow you to get a personal revelation by realizing you have an issue that needs to be treated.
1. A Clear And Progressively Unhealthy Perspective About Food
People who have normal relationships with food understand that a healthy diet usually involves moderation. However, people with anorexia are more likely to stop eating foods altogether, and this is a habit that may get worse.
For example, a person might announce that they are suddenly becoming a vegetarian or refuse to eat carbohydrates. Furthermore, when friends mention concern over those dietary habits, the individual may begin to make absolute and somewhat dramatic statements such as, “No, food makes me fat.”
Some people may also complain that eating makes them fat even if it is very obvious they are not overweight. Keep in mind that a refusal to eat certain categories of food is not automatically a red flag, but it may be cause for concern especially if the person was not directed to do so by a dietary professional.
2. Avoiding Eating In Public
People who have anorexia nervosa often want to exercise control over what they eat. Unfortunately, the level of control they desire to exert is very frequently at an unhealthy level. The want of control often makes people with anorexia avoid eating in public.
For example, by eating dinner at a friend’s house, a person might find it harder to hide the fact that they barely touched anything on the plate or was really just pushing the food around with the fork instead of actually eating.
Furthermore, going out to a restaurant may make a person feel a loss of perceived control even more because it is sometimes not possible to know with certainty the number of calories a dish contains.
The element of temptation may also come into play, especially if the foods are described in very descriptive ways and paired with enticing photographs. Rather than deal with those potential factors that may lead to more eating, anorexia sufferers are likely to have many excuses when they are asked why they don’t want to go out to eat.
3. Eating Is Rarely Observed By Others
As mentioned above, anorexia is a disorder that involves self-imposed starvation. Because people generally realize that living things have to eat to survive, it may be deemed necessary for individuals with eating disorders to insist to concerned friends that they’ll take food to eat on the way to somewhere else, or they might say things like, “I just ate a huge lunch. I’m stuffed and couldn’t eat another morsel.”
It’s also common for people with anorexia to demonstrate quick denial when caring friends or family members say things like, “Aren’t you hungry? It’s almost evening and you haven’t had lunch yet.” Generally, people with anorexia want to do whatever they can to give the impression they are eating, without actually consuming any food.
4. Sudden, Severe Weight Loss
Many concerned loved ones become tipped off about possible anorexia issues in their friends because those individuals have lost an extreme amount of weight in a very short amount of time.
In many cases, even people who are not trained to have a vast knowledge of things like body composition can easily see something is amiss when the people they love begin to look gaunt or bony but had previously appeared healthy.
Some people with anorexia may try to downplay their weight loss by highlighting certain lifestyle changes that would ordinarily be viewed as positive. For example, they might say, “Yes, I think I’ve lost a little weight, but that’s probably because I’ve really become conscious of eating less junk food,” or “Thanks, I guess that’s due to all the time I’ve been putting in at the gym every day.”
Commonly, they will try to shift perspectives so the massive weight loss, as well as the activities being done to cause it, may be construed as positive things. In addition, when people try to protest that the amount of weight that was lost is too much, individuals with anorexia will probably not seem to be able to grasp the seriousness of this bodily change.
5. Withdrawal From Friends And Activities
Because people with anorexia nervosa don’t want anything to get in the way of how much food they consume, they may start spending more time alone and avoiding the people and things they once loved.
As was already mentioned, they tend to come up with many excuses about why they cannot display normal eating habits, so theoretically, the less they are around friends, the fewer excuses they’ll have to concoct about why they aren’t eating properly.
Some professionals, such as school nurses and sports coaches, are probably well-accustomed to spotting the warning signs of anorexia. Therefore, there may be a possibility of an anorexia sufferer actively trying to stay away from people who may have experience with the disorder.
Unfortunately, the tendency to withdraw can be agonizing for the individuals in a person’s life who genuinely want to help.
How To Help Someone With A Suspected Eating Disorder
A crucial step in assisting someone you believe may have anorexia or another eating disorder involves being willing to have an open, honest conversation in private.
During the chat, don’t bring up topics like food, calories and weight, but focus on your feelings. For example, you could say, “I’m really concerned about you and think you should consider getting professional help.”
Also, don’t blame the person for their actions or suggest simple solutions. The person may lash out if it appears you seem to not understand their struggles. The important thing is to not comment on how they look, and don’t say something like, “You’re not fat.”
Since people with anorexia often have body image problems, your words are not likely to be well-received. Instead, you could encourage the person to explore weight-related fears, as well as what the individual truly hopes to achieve by being thin, but only under the guidance of an expert.
In conclusion, don’t be discouraged if you spot some or all of the signs above and then try to initiate a conversation that doesn’t go well. Although your first attempt may seem like a failure, you never know if the fact you’re concerned may be what ultimately causes the person to finally seek help.