It can be tricky to identify eating disorders, because people with eating disorders are often very secretive, attempting to conceal their activities from concerned friends and family members, along with others. There are some warning signs, however, which could indicate that someone is suffering from an eating disorder, and if you notice these signs of eating disorders in someone you know, you may want to talk to him or her about it. Be aware, however, that eating disorders are very complex, emotional topics, and even if you mean well, you may meet with some resistance when you try to help.
As you might imagine, many signs of eating disorders are related to weight and food. If someone loses weight rapidly with no medical cause, this can be a bad sign. You may also notice someone dramatically restricting his or her caloric intake, only eating “safe” foods, or indulging in food rituals. Many people with eating disorders also try to avoid social situations which involve food, and you may hear statements like “I already ate” or “I'll eat later.” In the case of a binge eating disorder, signs include eating large amounts of food at once, and often trying to conceal the event.
Many signs of eating disorders can also be found in someone's mood. While many people find diet and exercise interesting topics of discussion, someone with an eating disorder may become obsessive, talking about these topics all of the time, and boasting about his or her “healthy diet.” It is also common to hear self-defeating statements from people with eating disorders, including comments about dissatisfaction with one's body or life.
There are also some physical signs of eating disorders. Some of these signs are warnings that someone is in danger, and needs immediate medical treatment. Skin and hair problems are common in people with eating disorders, since they are not getting enough nutrition; you may notice that someone's skin has become ashy, or that his or her hair is getting lank and stringy. Bruised knuckles are a sign of purging behavior, and many people with eating disorders lack energy, feeling a sense of general malaise.
Someone with an eating disorder may wear loose, baggy clothing to cover up weight loss. Frequent trips to the bathroom are also not uncommon, and you may also notice obsessive behaviors. While any individual symptom from the list above can be a cause for concern, it is especially pressing if you notice several signs of eating disorders. In addition to being potentially deadly, eating disorders can also cause long-term physical harm.
If you notice signs of eating disorders in someone you are close to, communication is very important. Approach in a non-judgmental way, and try to remain friendly and relaxed while you express your concerns. If necessary, ask for help from coworkers, fellow students, school officials, and other people who might be able to provide assistance. Try not to back someone into a corner when discussing a possible eating disorder, but be firm if you suspect real danger.