Baptist Clinical Dietitian Breaks Down What You Need to Know About Eating Disorders

Apr 17 • 2017

It’s estimated that nearly 8 million people in the United States alone suffer from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Identifying the symptoms of an eating disorder in a loved one can be difficult, but knowing what to look for is extremely important. Baptist clinical dietician, Samantha Jones, shared her insights.

What are the most common symptoms people should be aware of to recognize eating disorders?

It is common for people, especially women, to worry about their weight. When does normal dieting become a health and emotional problem? Anorexia and bulimia are characterized by certain traits: food restriction, excessive fear of becoming fat even when thin, and a tendency toward compulsive behavior.

No one person will show all the characteristics, but a person with an eating disorders will manifest many. Disordered eating behaviors stand in the way of the healthy experience of emotional, social and spiritual development, and prevent the sufferer from living a full life. They are not “normal” efforts to “eat healthy”, and they require professional eating disorder treatment.

Behaviors associated with eating disorders may include:

  • Constant adherence to increasingly strict diets, regardless of weight
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Secretly bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Increase in consumption of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills
  • Exercising compulsively, often several hours per day
  • Using prescription stimulant medications (like Adderall) and/or illicit stimulant drugs (like cocaine) to suppress appetite

What are some of the emotional changes people should be aware of?

Despite different symptoms, eating disorders share common roots that depend on genetics, environmental factors, medical history, life experiences, and the presence of co-occurring psychiatric and addictive disorders.

Common signs of the emotional changes associated with having an eating disorder are:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family, particularly following questions about her disease or visible physical/medical side effects
  • Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present
  • Preoccupation with weight, body size and shape, or specific aspects of one’s appearance
  • Obsessing over calorie intake and calories burned via exercise, even as one may be losing significant amounts of weight.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders?

While eating disorders are considered a woman’s issue, men suffer from the disorder as well. Eating disorders can develop at any age, not just adolescent. Bulimia is often difficult to detect due to a person’s maintenance of a typical normal weight. Relapse is common; recovery takes time.

How can people provide support to their friends or family members who are struggling with this?

Education increases the family’s understanding of the treatment process.  Family should focus on ing be supportive as opposed to using confrontational interactions.

Are there any “new” eating disorders people should be aware of?

Yes. They are:

  • ‘Diabulimia’ is characterized by a person manipulating insulin (limiting or omitting) to lose weight.
  • ‘Orthorexia’ is characterized by a person extreme fixation on healthy eating.
  • ‘Pregorexia’ is characterized by a woman engaging in disordered eating behavior while pregnant to control her body size and weight gain.

Eating disorders with psychological, behavioral, and physiologic components are complex in nature.  A team of medical doctors, phycologist, nurses and nutritionists can provide the comprehensive treatment needed.