Worried about someone? Spotting the signs of an eating disorder
Eating disorders (anorexia specifically) have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. This may be a scary statistic to hear, but recovery is entirely possible. One aspect of this involves getting help as early as possible.
The struggle with this is that people in the midst of an eating disorder may not recognise that they need help. As someone who cares about them, you can be a big help here. Being aware and vigilant of the warning signs is key, and then knowing how to support them moving forward.
It’s important to note that while eating disorders can affect the way someone looks (i.e. they may lose or put on weight), it’s the behavioural changes that happen first so these are important to look out for. Someone with an eating problem may not lose or gain much weight at all, but this does not mean they don’t need support.
Signs of an eating disorder
Making excuses not to eat in public or avoiding eating situations
Eating disorders can make the actual task of eating a meal very stressful for someone with an eating problem. They may, therefore, try to get out of eating in front of people and avoid social occasions that revolve around food.
Withdrawing from hobbies they used to enjoy
Having an eating problem can quickly become all-consuming for someone struggling. They may have no energy or even mental capacity to take part in things they used to.
Commenting on their weight/appearance
Often, someone with an eating problem will not see themselves in a positive light. For example, they may consider themselves overweight, even if they are of a healthy weight (or underweight).
General changes in behaviour
Eating disorders can make people behave differently. Someone who was once honest and confident may become secretive and anxious.
What to do if you spot these signs?
If you are worried about someone it can be hard to know what to do next. Try not to panic or react in anger. The best thing you can do is express your concern and offer to be there if they want to talk.
Saying that you notice they aren’t happy and may want to talk to someone is another step you could take.
When my parents were concerned about me, the most helpful thing they did was help me see how unhappy I was. They gently encouraged me to speak to my doctor to help me feel better and I did. Initially, I was worried about discussing my eating disorder, but when I started counselling it all came out and I began treatment.
Avoid giving them ultimatums or forcing them to eat. This can backfire, causing them to withdraw even further from you. Encourage openness and be sympathetic.
Having an eating disorder is a scary experience and pushes you into a dark place. Showing your support and kindness is an easy way to shine a light for them.
When the person is ready to get support, they can use our search tool to find a counsellor that’s right for them.