At Risk for an Eating Disorder? Know the Warning Signs - Beth Riley
As our nation becomes more and more consumed with options for weight management and staying fit — with goals that range from reducing obesity to obtaining the perfect body — the rate of obesity, ironically, continues to rise.
That said, trends that include boutique exercise facilities popping up on every street corner, kale and Brussels sprouts on the menus of more and more restaurants and countless new products on the market (organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free) are helping Americans in their quest to stay healthy, slim and fit.
But with good intentions comes a downside: the effect these trends are having on those who are predisposed to eating disorders.
“What we’ve done as a society is take health and fitness to the extreme with a well-intentioned goal of reducing obesity,” said Beth Riley, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) and Executive Director of Eating Recovery Center, The Carolinas. “But for those genetically predisposed to eating disorders, these trends are triggers. What that means is, when they are exposed to an environment conducive to weight loss, they are more likely to develop an eating disorder.”
Riley, who holds a Masters Degree in social work and who has worked in the field of eating disorders for 19 years, explained that 85 percent of those with eating disorders are adolescents. She referred to three types of eating disorders that can be triggered by society’s good intentions to reduce obesity:
Symptoms of Anorexia:
“Someone with anorexia tends to be a perfectionist, a high achiever, and a rule follower,” said Riley. “He or she tends to have an all-or-nothing type attitude, and might be obsessive-compulsive. So, if their primary care physician or a parent tells them they need to lose a few pounds, they take it to the extreme.”
Learn more about anorexia symptoms.
Symptoms of Bulimia:
Riley said those suffering from bulimia are more impulsive, volatile, and risk-taking.“If you tell that person to go on a diet, by the end of the day they are going to eat as much food as quickly as they can,” she said. “They then feel guilty and shameful which causes them to purge or take laxatives.”
Learn more about bulimia symptoms.
Symptoms of Binge Eating:
“When binge eaters are told they are overweight, their brain is structured so that food makes them feel good,” Riley said. “So when they go on a diet, get hungry and miss food, they overeat later. It sets up a vicious cycle of guilt and shame. Their automatic thought is, ‘I’m bad. There is something wrong with me’ instead of realizing they just need to make small adjustments to their diet to lose a few pounds.”
Learn more about binge eating symptoms.
Riley said when it comes to eating disorders, most physicians receive very little or no education on the subject in medical school. Therefore, patients predisposed to eating disorders aren’t referred out to an eating disorder clinic because the doctors don’t catch the symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating.
She said it is important for healthcare providers and parents to recognize the differences between kids trying to be healthy and fit and those who could have an underlying eating disorder.
Warning Signs of Eating Disorders
Here are a few warning signs that may signal that you, or someone you love, might have an eating disorder:
- They exercise excessively, no matter what. If they are injured, if the weather is inclement, they will still find a way to work out.
- They start to eliminate food groups and become obsessed with certain foods. For example, they will only eat kale or spinach.
- They become more isolated and unwilling to eat meals outside of the home because it compromises their ability to control exactly what they want to eat.
- They are constantly making negative comments about their bodies and calling themselves “fat.”
- They count calories and weigh themselves obsessively.
- They become focused on shopping for food and cooking for others, but won’t eat the food themselves.
- You catch them with laxatives or throwing up after meals; these are signs of bulimia.
In closing, Riley said that only one in ten children with eating disorders end up getting treatment, not only because of the stigma attached to the condition, but because the diagnosis is often under the radar, due to a lack of education about the symptoms of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
She explained that, when eating disorders go untreated, adolescents can suffer severe consequences, which include impaired brain development, bone loss, and hormonal disruptions, which could lead to infertility.
“Kids have the best chance of living a normal life if they are treated early for eating disorders,” Riley said.