Healthy Eating Plan

Signs of eating disorders that often go unnoticed: ‘They’re not about food’

Although a symptom of eating disorders can include an obsession over weight, this is just one piece of a larger puzzle, experts say.

An eating disorder can develop when an individual attempts to treat the lack of control they may have in other areas of their life through extreme control over food and exercise.

And while eating disorders are unique for every individual who develop them, there are some warning signs people can look out for:

  • Increased stress and irritability around meal times
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Rigid thoughts about food being “good” versus “bad”
  • Eating alone, or disappearing immediately after a family meal
  • Preoccupation with weight and body image, which can be accompanied by a distorted view of their size and shape
  • Hoarding or stealing large amounts of food
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

There are other types of eating disorders beyond the ‘top three’ we usually think of: anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.

For instance, clinicians are reporting increasing instances of orthorexia, which is an obsession with eating only ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’ foods.

A guide for parents

For parents in particular, watching out for these kinds of signs and openly discussing eating disorders with your children can prevent harmful outcomes down the road.

Dr. Pei-Yoong Lam, a pediatrician with the BC Children’s Hospital provincial specialized eating disorders program, says other physical signs in females can include irregular periods, adding if this happens regularly, talk to a family doctor.

“Other common signs [include] fainting spells, dizziness episodes and cold hands and feet when it’s not really that cold,” she tells Global News.

Dr. Jennifer Coelho, a psychologist with the same program adds that young people may also wear baggy clothes to hide the shape of their bodies.

Lam says other signs include shortness of breath, more cavities and enamel erosion of the teeth due to vomiting or eating more acidic foods. Constipation and bloating are also common: “If you are eating irregularly, you are not stimulating your gut.”

Coelho adds sometimes there is just a lack of hunger and this is a result of that irregular eating cycle.

Eating disorders are also associated with symptoms of low self-esteem and negative thoughts about one’s body. Lam says young people (as well as adults), have desires for what they think the perfect body looks like, and may go to extremes to get it.

And with teens plugged into social media sites constantly, it’s important for parents to notice not only the types of conversations their children are having but what they’re doing online.

“What we hear from parents when children come through the ER is they were aware their child made changes to focus on healthy eating and thought it was great,” Coelho says, adding that often, it’s hard to recognize when it becomes a disorder.

“Open and transparent communication with your child about what their online activities are would be my message,” Lam says. “These things can be discussed within the family and not [kept] a secret.”


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