As is the case with substance use disorders (SUDs), you can’t simply “judge a book by its cover” if you suspect a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder (ED). There are many varieties of eating disorders including the restriction of, obsession with, or bingeing of food, just as there are a myriad of drugs that can be abused. There is sometimes a lack of any definitive signs that can make identifying a loved one’s eating disorder very difficult.
“It’s important that we don’t view eating disorders as an affliction for just the very thin,” says Elyse Parcher, MS, NCC, LPC, primary eating disorder therapist at Recovery Centers of America. “There’s so much more to it than just body weight such as social and behavioral signs that we might observe in a loved one who needs help.”
Parcher notes that some of these signs include a preoccupation/obsession with weight, food, or exercise and specific food rituals, but may also entail withdrawing from friends and activities or extreme mood swings.
“Weight fluctuations or constant illness may actually be some of the easier physical symptoms to identify, but generally speaking, whenever a loved one pulls away from family or friends or has extreme ups and downs in their mood, there may be reason to be concerned,” says Parcher.
At least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The National Eating Disorders Association has a helpful and thorough list of warning signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, orthorexia, and more, and states that the chance for recovery increases the earlier an eating disorder is detected and treated.
If a family member or friend suspects their loved one has an eating disorder, it’s imperative to approach the topic with concern and love, and without judgment or accusation, says Parcher. Listen to what they may say about body image, self-esteem, or how they perceive food as more than just human sustenance.
As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, Parcher understands that eating disorders can be a shield of protection for self-hatred and recognizes why they can be so difficult for an individual to acknowledge. Parcher emphasizes self-worth and identity as crucial components of the treatment and recovery process.
“It’s about instilling hope that full recovery is possible, that a more fulfilling and vibrant life awaits you.”
To speak with a professional about eating disorder treatment for your loved one, call 844-852-8222.