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They are hidden and insidious and dangerous. They affect millions of men and women across the country and if they are not addressed, they can be fatal. They do not discriminate between rich or poor and are among the nation’s worst hidden epidemics. No matter which eating disorder a person struggles with, there exists potential for serious harm. Often, however, eating disorders can go unnoticed and unaddressed. So how can you recognize when a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder?

Behavioral Changes

Many eating disorders are grown in the soil of shame. Those with eating disorders are often ashamed of their bodies, ashamed that they do not meet a certain weight, ashamed that they do not have a certain body type. This shame, and the subsequent desire to hide, can make eating disorders difficult to detect.

However, knowing this can help you recognize an eating disorder in a loved one. Pay attention to how and when your loved one eats. Does he or she stick to a single food or limited set of foods? Does your loved one frequently have excuses why he or she cannot go out to a restaurant with you or his or her friends? Does your loved one always claim to not be hungry?

It can also be helpful to consider how your loved one talks about his or her body. Does your loved one constantly disparage his or her body or certain parts of his or her body? Is your loved one’s perception of his or her body drastically different from an objective outsider’s perspective? What is your loved one’s relationship with exercise? Does he or she exercise excessively?

While none of these behaviors is a definite indication of an eating disorder, looking holistically at a loved one’s behavior and comparing it to past behavior may begin to reveal a pattern of an unhealthy relationship with food.

Physical Changes

Because food is central to our bodies’ ability to function every day, eating disorders often result in physical changes. People with anorexia may become more and more emaciated, while people with binge-eating disorder may gain weight. Has your loved one experienced drastic changes in weight? Does he or she wear baggy or poorly-fitting clothes in an effort to disguise his or her appearance?

You might also consider the effects of your loved one’s particular eating disorder. People with bulimia may develop dental problems as a result of frequently vomiting after eating. Women with eating disorders may also have menstrual irregularity or may cease menstruating altogether. Sometimes people with eating disorders also use laxatives to “purge” their bodies of calories after eating; with extended use, they may even be unable to use the bathroom without laxatives.

Eating disorders have the potential to cause immense disruption in the lives of those who suffer from them. However, the fact that you are reading this means that your loved one already has a strong ally – you. While this article is by no means a complete guide to detecting eating disorders, by learning to recognize some possible signs of these disorders, you can then open lines of communication with your loved one and, with patience and a healthy dose of compassion, gently encourage your loved one to seek the treatment he or she needs.

Post provided by Center for Hope of the Sierras