We understand that it can be difficult for family and friends to recognise the signs of an eating disorder.
If you are worried about someone close to you, our team has put together information on the subtle signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, alongside advice on how to help a person who is struggling. We have also outlined the support and treatment that is available here at Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai.
Subtle signs of an eating disorder
1. Very interested in food
One of the subtle signs of an eating disorder is suddenly becoming preoccupied and obsessive about food. The person may constantly watch cooking programmes and TV shows about food and nutrition. They may also read a lot of recipes and prepare a lot of food without actually eating it.
2. Overly informed with nutrition
You may recognise that the person has become fixated on trying out the latest diet trends. This may have led to restrictive behaviours as they try and adhere to different dietary rules.
3. Strict eating habits
Strict eating habits are common in people with eating disorders. They tend to stick to very regimented eating routines such as only eating at specific times of the day or always using the same bowls and plates.
It’s important to note that this behaviour is not only isolated to somebody with an eating disorder but could also be present in somebody experiencing symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
4. Eating the same foods, in a particular way
Somebody with an eating disorder may only feel safe eating certain foods from certain brands, as they are familiar with the nutritional content and calories in these foods.
They may also have particular eating rituals such as cutting food up in very tiny pieces before eating it. They may always eat vegetables first, followed by protein and leave carbohydrates until the end of the meal. They may also separate food groups from one another on their plate.
5. Unusual food combinations
Another subtle sign of an eating disorder is when somebody adds unusual condiments to their food. Examples of this could include adding chili to mashed potato, salsa to broccoli, vinegar to salad or tabasco to all types of food. They typically add these condiments to hide flavour and spoil the food.
Fidgeting burns calories so it’s common for somebody with an eating disorder to move around a lot and struggle with sitting still for long periods of time.
7. Chewing gum
Chewing gum may seem relatively normal; however, chewing has been proven to reduce feelings of hunger. If someone chews a high frequency and large amount of gum, this can be a subtle sign of an eating disorder.
8. Wearing clothes that don’t fit
People suffering with eating disorders often have a distorted body image. They often take little self-care and choose to wear clothes that are far too big for them and that hide their body. They may also become attached to clothes that don’t fit them anymore in the hope they will fit into them once again.
Somebody with anorexia will tend to wear many layers to keep warm. This is typically because they have very low body fat and are therefore sensitive to the cold.
9. Skipping social situations
You may notice that the person you are worried about has started to shy away from being around other people, and has begun to withdraw from social interactions they used to enjoy.
This can also be linked to other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
10. Mood changes
Mood swings are a common sign of an eating disorder as changes in nutritional intake can greatly affect hormones, causing extreme mood swings.
How can I support a loved one?
If you are worried that someone has started to display the signs of an eating disorder, there are a number of ways you can help them:
- Remind them that you are there for them and you care
- Listen to them and be supportive
- Offer to help with tasks such as driving them to doctor appointments, or sitting in with them during appointments if they would like you to go with them
Seek professional support
If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health condition such as an eating disorder, it may be that you need to seek professional support.
Our experienced psychiatrists and psychologist are committed to providing everyone they see with expert treatment so that they can start to feel better.
More information about the mental health treatment we offer can be found here.