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Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Every year the last week of February is designated as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. During this time, we shine a light on the seriousness of Eating Disorders, recognize the advancements made in the Eating Disorder field, educate the public, and provide hope, support, and resources to those struggling with an Eating Disorder. Bringing awareness to Eating Disorders this year is particularly important. Studies show that the Covid-19 Pandemic has had monumentally detrimental effects on those who suffer from eating disorders. The Covid-19 recommendations and lockdowns, while necessary, have caused people to experience changes to daily routines, increased stress, and distance from a support system which can negatively impact mental health and exacerbate eating disorder struggles.

There are many different types of Eating Disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). All have unique signs and symptoms, behaviors towards food, outside factors that contribute to the disorder, and treatment options for overcoming them. These types include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, ARFID, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).

Recognizing an Eating Disorder

When people think about a person with an Eating Disorder, most people picture someone who is noticeably thin. However, being thin is not always an indicator of someone struggling with an eating disorder. In fact, someone who looks healthy or even overweight could very well be struggling with an eating disorder. So let's take a look at some different signs and symptoms that you can look for to indicate that someone you know may be struggling with an Eating Disorder. Keep in mind that Eating Disorders cannot be self-diagnosed, and you must reach out to a professional to get a proper diagnosis.

Anorexia Nervosa Signs and Symptoms According to Psych Central

  • irregular periods or loss of period

  • difficulty concentrating

  • abdominal pain or constipation

  • feeling cold

  • fatigue or muscle weakness

  • fainting or dizziness

  • sleep problems

  • dry skin or brittle nails

  • thinning or dry and brittle hair

  • soft downy hair on limbs

  • cold, mottled, or swollen hands or feet

  • constant thoughts about food, weight, or body image

  • keeping a rigid exercise schedule

  • restricting certain food groups

  • feelings of depression, irritability, or anxiety

  • feeling “out of control”

  • feelings of isolation

  • tendency to eat alone rather than with family or loved ones

  • rituals or habits associated with mealtime

  • worry or avoidance of eating in public

  • cooking for others without eating

Bulimia Nervosa Signs and Symptoms According to Psych Central

  • swollen cheeks or jaw

  • cuts or calluses on the knuckles or back of hands

  • stained or discolored teeth

  • tooth decay

  • broken blood vessels in the eyes

  • dry skin or dry and brittle nails

  • stomach cramps or other gastrointestinal problems, like constipation or acid reflux

  • feeling cold all the time

  • dizziness and fainting, or syncope

  • thinning hair or dry and brittle hair

  • Dehydration

  • going to the bathroom right after eating

  • hiding food wrappers in unexpected places

  • seeming uncomfortable eating in front of other people

  • hiding packages of laxatives or diuretics

  • stealing or hiding food in strange places

  • frequently dieting

  • excessively using mouthwash, mints, or gum

  • obsessively exercising, even in bad weather or when tired or hurt

  • acting moody or sad

  • overly concerned with body weight and shape

  • frequently making disparaging remarks about body weight and shape

  • having extreme shifts in mood

  • no longer wanting to hang out with friends or do activities they once enjoyed

Binge Eating Disorder Signs and Symptoms According to Psych Central

  • repeated episodes of binge eating — at least one episode of binge eating per week for at least 3 Months

  • eating an objectively large amount of food in a given sitting

  • the feeling that you have no control and can’t stop eating

  • eating alone

  • eating fast

  • continuing to eat after you feel satisfied until you feel very full or ill

  • shame about how much food you eat

  • self-disgust, guilt, and depression may accompany an episode of binge eating

ARFID Signs and Symptoms According to Psych Central

  • inability to eat certain types or textures of food

  • aversion to foods with a certain color, smell, or taste

  • a lack of interest in food

  • fears of choking, vomiting, nausea, or food poisoning

  • a lack of energy due to poor nutrition

  • cold intolerance

  • gastrointestinal issues, including stomach pain or constipation

  • dread and anxiety around mealtimes

  • difficulty chewing or swallowing food

  • avoiding social events that relate to food, such as dinner parties

OSFED Signs and Symptoms

This classification of eating disorders can have a wide range of symptoms, including those listed above. People with the OSFED classification may exhibit symptoms of some of the other Eating Disorder types but don’t necessarily fit within the specific diagnostic criteria for any one type of Eating Disorder.

Treatments for Eating Disorders

Treatment for eating disorders is as varied as the different types and people who suffer from them. The treatment plan for someone with an eating disorder should address both the physical and mental aspects of the condition and consider the symptoms and the severity of the problem.

With that in mind, most people find that treatment works best when multiple practitioners are on the same page with a patient, working together to help that person get to a place of good health both physically and mentally. This team could include the patient’s medical doctor, a therapist, and a nutritionist. This teamwork approach tends to produce much better outcomes than those who only utilize one avenue to overcome their Eating Disorder.

Medical Treatment

The medical part of the treatment plan looks at any physical problems associated with the eating disorder. Suppose a patient is experiencing severe symptoms of malnourishment, other health problems, or extreme mental health problems such as suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors. In that case, these treatments can include medication to treat any underlying depression or anxiety that may attribute to the Eating Disorder, or in extreme cases, a stay in a residential treatment facility to assist the patient with stabilizing their bodies and getting back to a healthy baseline.

Nutritional Treatment

A nutritionist will work with the patient to help them develop a healthy diet plan and handle triggers. They will also help the patient learn how to plan meals that meet healthy nutritional needs, set and achieve a healthy weight, and how nutrition affects the body.

Therapeutic Treatment

Your therapist will help you identify any negative thoughts or triggers that affect your eating disorder. Once you learn how to identify those thoughts, your therapist will help you reframe those thoughts and replace them with healthy ones. Part of your therapeutic treatment will focus on identifying any fears you have towards different foods and how your emotions affect your eating.

At Georgetown Counseling and Wellness, our therapists are trained to help those struggling with disordered eating tendencies to identify and change negative thought processes and work within the treatment team to help clients achieve good health and a healthy relationship with food. If a client is in need of more intensive Eating Disorder treatment, we can assess, refer and work with a treatment team. If you or someone you know is struggling with an Eating Disorder, please feel free to reach out.


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