Saturday, September 12, 2009

How to Tell if Your Friend has an Eating Disorder

After telling people my story, I almost always get the following question:

"How can I help my friend, I think she/he has an eating disorder?"

This is a hard question to answer, because people are so concerned with body image these days. Your friend that is trying to shed a few pounds, may be perfectly okay. Your other friend that is going to the gym for 3 hours at a time may be training for a marathon. I found something that will help you in your determining whether it is harmless, or something you might want to pursue.

Teen's Health from Nemours has listed the following signs that your friend's idea of normal dieting has slipped into the obsessive category of an eating disorder:
  • Your friend has an obsession with weight and food (more than general comments about how many calories he or she eats in a day). It might seem like your friend talks about food, weight and being thin and nothing else.
  • Your friend knows exactly how many calories and fat grams are in everything that he or she eats — and is constantly pointing this out.
  • Your friend feels the need to exercise all the time, even when sick or exhausted.
  • Your friend avoids hanging out with you and other friends during meals. For example, he or she avoids the school cafeteria at lunch or the coffee shop or diner where you usually meet on weekends.
  • Your friend starts to wear big or baggy clothes. Lots of people wear baggy clothes as a fashion statement, but someone who wears baggy clothes to hide their shape might have other issues.
  • Your friend goes on dramatic or very restrictive diets, cuts food into tiny pieces, moves food around on the plate instead of eating it, and is very precise about how food is arranged on the plate.
  • Your friend seems to compete with others about how little they eat. If a friend proudly tells you she only had a diet soda for breakfast and half an apple for lunch, it's a red flag that she could be developing an eating disorder.
  • Your friend goes to the bathroom a lot, especially right after meals, or you've heard your friend vomiting after eating.
  • Despite losing a lot of weight, your friend always talks about how fat he or she is.
  • Your friend appears to be gaining a lot of weight even though you never see him or her eat (people with bulimia often only eat diet food in front of their friends).
  • Your friend is very defensive or sensitive about his or her weight loss or eating habits.
  • Your friend buys or takes laxatives, steroids, or diet pills.
  • Your friend has a tendency to faint, bruises easily, is very pale, or starts complaining of being cold more than usual (cold intolerance can be a symptom of being underweight).
I will write more about how you can help in a later post.

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