New Signs of an Eating Disorder

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

For a long time there were really only two official diagnoses for eating disorders - anorexia, or bulimia. The signs of an eating disorder were that you were obsessed with controlling your calorie intake, or that you binged then purged.

But finally it was recognised that disordered eating is far more complex. Now in the UK there are two more ways of referring to an eating disorder recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). These are ‘binge eating disorder’ and “other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED)”.

New signs and symptoms of an eating disorder

So given these expanded categories, what are the new signs of an eating disorder you need to be aware of?

1. You use food to make yourself feel better.

Who hasn’t turned to ice cream or chocolate when overwhelmed by a breakup or losing a job? But if you routinely use food when you are sad, often eat until you feel numb, purposely choose foods that are bad for you or make y0u feel sick, or eat mindlessly and only realise what or how much when you 'snap out of it'? It might be a sign of an eating disorder.

2. You eat to the point of numbness or feeling sick, but you never purge.

Ever eaten the week’s groceries in a night? Or overeat to the point of feeling sick at least once, if not several times a week? Then tell yourself its’ ‘fine’ as you don’t vomit, overexercise, or take laxatives? Not so fast. You would likely qualify as having ‘binge eating disorder’.

3. You see food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and use food to feel 'pure'.

Unofficially called ‘orthexia’, this is like a new form of anorexia. If you were a healthy eater but stuck at an airport with nothing to eat but a sandwich, you would make do. If you have orthexia, you’d choose to eat nothing at all or survive for hours off a piece of fruit. You choose malnourishment over ‘bad foods’ because the truth is this isn't about 'healthy', it's about control.

4. You rigorously use meal replacements.

Lost the weight, but still using meal replacements? Feel panicky at the thought of stopping using meal replacements and eating regular food? It's worth talking to a counsellor.

5. You use supplements as meals.

There has been a rise in men especially using dangerous levels of supplements like whey protein, and using supplements as a way to restrict eating habits, even knowing are putting themselves at risk or liver or kidney issues. The second you are controlling your eating in a way you know could endanger your health you are looking at the signs of an eating disorder.

6. You are pregnant, but restricting calories because you don’t want to get fat.

Again, the moment you put your health at risk (and in this case the health of your child) in order to control your weight, you are looking at an eating disorder.

7. You obsessively control your eating to save your calories for alcohol.

If you are either starving, or bingeing and purging, all to ‘save’ calories for drinking, you have a problem.

As you can see, most of these examples involve making food a battle of control, seeing food or some types of food as 'bad', or using food in ways that are self-abusive. If you are engaging in these sorts of behaviours, reach out for support.

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