Eating disorders: Signs to look out for

eating disorder symptomsSigns and symptoms of an eating disorder.Detecting eating disorders in a loved one can be very challenging as, by nature, sufferers from these conditions will be secretive and try to hide the fact they are not eating or making themselves sick.

It is vital though that people suffering from eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, get help as soon as possible as they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

So what signs should you look out for when it comes to your loved one and eating disorders?


You can't tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them, especially in the early stages, as they may not have started to lose weight.

In fact, while some eating disorder sufferers will end up looking emaciated, those with bulimia can still be within the normal weight range as they make themselves sick to prevent themselves from putting weight on.

Leanne Thorndyke, head of communications at Beat, also commented on the warning signs to look out for when trying to detect an eating disorder.

She said: "Family members should look out for changes in behaviour, mood swings, absenting themselves from family meals, withdrawal from social life, losing weight or failure to gain weight - children should gain weight steadily as they are developing, and being afraid of becoming fat or afraid of the fat in food itself."

Ms Thorndyke added that it can take time for families to pick up on an eating disorder in a loved one as they will go to great lengths to hide it.

Is age a factor?

We traditionally think that anorexia and bulimia only affects teenagers as they are the most likely to suffer from low self-esteem and concerns over their weight due to peer pressure.

Puberty is also a time of change, with some trying to maintain some control over their lives by managing their weight.

Ms Thorndyke said: "They can affect anyone at any time, although girls and young women aged 12-20 are the most at risk."

Eating disorders can also afflict those under or above this age range, with Beat stating that there have been cases of girls as young as six with anorexia.

Women over the age of 50 are also at risk of developing eating disorders, although they are harder to diagnose at this stage, with cases in this age group increasing 42 per cent in 11 years.

If you are concerned about an older member of your family suffering from an eating disorder look out for excessive exercise, dieting and an obsession with weight.

What about gender?

Again, it is a common misconception that females are the only ones to suffer from eating disorders, but men can be afflicted with them too.

Ms Thorndyke added that more than 1.6 million men and women of all ages and backgrounds are affected by eating disorders in the UK, proving it is not just a female mental illness.

Figures vary regarding the number of people suffering from eating disorders and what percentage are men, but it is estimated that ten per cent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.

Statistics on men with eating disorders are vague at best because they are often misdiagnosed due to a lack of awareness.

Men are also less likely to come forward due to a perceived stigma on eating disorders and in particular men suffering from them.

Therefore, if you're concerned that a male loved one is struggling with an eating disorder they will need extra encouragement to seek help from a medical professional or specialist clinic.


Now that you know who can be affected and signs to look out regarding eating disorders, you may be wondering what causes them in the first place.

The answer is that no-one knows yet as it can range from genetics and psychology to environmental and social factors.

All we do know is that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that put the sufferer's physical health at risk if they are not treated.

More often than not, eating disorder sufferers have low self-esteem, body dismorphia – meaning their perception of their body is inaccurate (so they may think they are fat when they aren't) – anxiety and depression.

If you notice a loved one suffering from anxious and depressed feelings as well as mood swings, weight loss and a withdrawal from family meals – seek medical advice.

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