Often times, recognizing whether you may have an eating disorder or certain disordered eating features can be a challenge. The thoughts, feelings, and behaviors accompanying an eating disorder can become so routine and natural for the person experiencing them, that they seem normal, appropriate, and maybe even healthy. For clients with an eating disorder, acknowledging that they are suffering from this illness is the first step to recovery. But the question is, unless you are actually diagnosed by a mental health or medical professional, how do you know you have an eating disorder and that you should seek help? Here are some red flags to consider:
Various areas of your life are negatively affected by your relationship with food, exercise, or body image. You may notice decreased productivity or success at work or school, avoidance or abandonment of usual interests or obligations, and deterioration of relationships. Your concentration may be frequently interrupted by intrusive thoughts about food, exercise, and body image.
You are experiencing new health concerns or worsening of previous issues as a result of your food and exercise behaviors – gastrointestinal problems, halted menstruation, high or low blood pressure, high cholesterol, frequent coldness, osteoporosis, joint pain, fainting, sleep issues, heart complications, substantial weight loss or gain in a short period of time, etc.
Secrecy and Dishonesty
You find yourself hiding or being dishonest about how much or how little you are eating, your exercise habits, and your use of other behaviors or substances for weight control. You engage in your behaviors in private and would feel shame if others found out about them.
Importance of Weight/Size
You consider your body size/weight to be a high or top priority in your life. The thought of gaining weight terrifies you. The way you feel about your body may dictate your mood, self-worth, and even how you participate in your life (i.e. socializing). When you are experiencing body dissatisfaction, you may find yourself consumed with thoughts and feelings about your body.
Fear of Stopping Behaviors
The thought of stopping your usual behaviors and routines with food and exercise scares you. You may feel that without these behaviors, you would feel out of control, unable to function, or feel emotionally dysregulated. You may be distressed that your body will change in an unfavorable way were you to stop behaviors.
Rules and Rigidity
You have certain rules or rituals in terms of food, exercise, and body image that you feel obligated to follow (i.e. restricting food groups, going to specific drive-thrus to binge, etc.). You perceive certain foods as “good” or “bad” and may only allow yourself a certain amount of calories per day. You may feel distressed when you “break” a rule or experience an interruption in your routine. These rules may cause you to compromise other areas of your life; for instance, you may decline social invitations so that you can binge on your own.
Need for Emotional Regulation
You recognize that you may use your behaviors to regulate your emotions, whether through purging to release stress, or binging to comfort yourself. Your behaviors may have started around a time you were adjusting to a life transition (whether negative or positive).
Other people in your life have commented on changes in your appearance, mood, or behaviors, and may have even expressed concern about them. Others comment on your behaviors surrounding food and exercise in a way that makes them seem unusual or different.
Poor Quality of Life
At your core, you don’t feel happy or emotionally stable; you may even think about ending your life. Your food/exercise thoughts, feelings, and behaviors may prevent you from participating in your usual interests and living a healthy, happy life. You believe a better relationship with food, exercise, and your body would drastically improve your life.
If you are able to identify some or all of these red flags in your life, this may be an indication that you are struggling with an eating disorder or facing certain challenges in your relationship with food, exercise, and/or your body image. Acknowledging your struggle is extremely courageous and is a foundational step towards receiving help and resources towards recovery.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is doctoral candidate in clinical psychology and a registered psychological assistant in Torrance. She provides psychotherapy under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali and works with adolescents and adults in individual and group settings, focusing on disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, and cormorbid disorders. Bahar has experience mentoring individuals seeking recovery from eating disorders and facilitating support groups focused on improving one’s relationship with food and body image. Contact us today to book a free consultation with Bahar.