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Do I Have An Eating Disorder?

By Meg Mulroy, LPC 

We are constantly receiving messages from family, friends, and the media about diet, exercise, and our bodies.  We live in a health-obsessed and fat-phobic society which can reinforce our negative feelings and attitudes towards our own bodies. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, it is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at least once in their life. However, eating disorders can be hard to identify and can look very different for each person it affects.

 So, how do you know if you have an eating disorder and how will you know how to treat it? The first step is learning a little bit about the symptoms of the different kinds of eating disorders. NEDA provides an overview of each disorder and its symptoms here.  You may notice yourself eating less, losing weight quickly, or being more specific with measuring your food and developing rules about what you eat. You may also notice yourself eating more than usual and eating past a level of comfort. NEDA also provides an online assessment here that may be helpful in determining if you need to seek professional help. 

What Eating Disorders Are There

It’s important to have an idea of the different types of eating disorders so you can be aware of the different symptoms to talk about with a doctor or therapist. These are some of the most common eating disorders: 

  • Anorexia: Anorexia is characterized by restriction of food, low body weight, and a fear of gaining weight. 
  • Bulimia: Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of compensatory behaviors after eating (sometimes referred to as a binge). Compensatory behaviors can look like purging, excessive exercise, or using laxatives. 
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED): BED is characterized by eating a larger than average amount of food in a given time frame and feeling out of control with how much you ingest. Oftentimes, folks will eat very quickly and uncomfortably past their ‘full’ feeling. 
  • Pica: Pica involves eating things that are not food. Examples may include paper, chalk, or any other non-food item.
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: Not eating to the point of inadequate nutrition or energy, without evidence of anorexia or bulimia. 

If you find yourself relating to a few symptoms of different eating disorders, this is actually very common. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified- EDNOS previously) was created to include individuals who do not meet diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Please note, this does not make the eating disorder any less serious or important to treat. 

When Do Eating Disorders Develop? 

While this changes for everyone, disordered eating often emerges in adolescence or young adulthood. However, stressful life changes can trigger disordered eating habits to develop including moving, divorce, or grief and loss. 

Who Develops Eating Disorders? 

Anyone can have an eating disorder. Many folks are under the incorrect assumption that men do not have issues with disordered eating habits, but it is important to acknowledge that this is an issue that men face and may be underreported. Additionally, recent research shows that eating disorders affect women of ethnic minorities just as much as they affect White women. 

 What Now? 

The first steps in getting help with your eating disorder include making an appointment with a primary care physician and a mental health counselor. You may also want to make an appointment with a nutritionist or dietician. These folks can all help you decide how to best treat your disordered eating habits, whether that includes a stay at a residential treatment center or outpatient therapy.  Contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our counselors in Chicago that can help you get started. 


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