While asking the question, “Will I be diagnosed with an eating disorder if I talk to someone?” can be a very frightening reality, it hopefully offers a bit of hope. Talking with a medical professional, counselor or even a trusted friend can be one of the first important steps in getting help for an eating disorder. While a trusted friend can’t help diagnose an eating disorder, they can always put you on the right path to someone who can.
How is an eating disorder diagnosed?
Varying factors are taken into consideration when diagnosing an eating disorder, including physical symptoms, psychological wellbeing and whether or not certain criteria from the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) and ICD (International Classification of Diseases) are identifiable in the client.
Additionally, certain treatment centers will require the completion of a questionnaire. This allows counselors and doctors alike to better understand personal habits like eating behaviors and exercise routines, and whether or not purging or restricting is present in the life of the individual seeking treatment. From there, they determine the level of care required once an eating disorder has been identified and diagnosed.
Signs and symptoms
Depending on which eating disorder is potentially present, certain signs and criteria will be identifiable. Some of the most common signs for anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating are as follows:
- Restricting food intake to such a degree that body weight is less than the healthy requirement/expectation for said age, sex, etc.
- Intense fear of gaining weight which interferes with daily habits like eating and exercising that promotes a healthy weight
- Having a distorted image of their body, such as believing they are overweight when they are, in fact, underweight
- Recurrent episodes of binge-eating, where the individual eats more than is necessary for their body; they continue eating even when they’re not hungry and feel a lack of control or inability to stop eating during this time
- These episodes are coupled with a counteractive compensative behavior like induced vomiting, over-exercising, skipping a number of meals or misusing laxatives or diet pills
- Other signs may include disappearing into the restroom after meals, evidence of binge-eating episodes such as multiple empty containers or wrappers from food products, or even tooth decay from excessive vomiting
- Frequent episodes of eating more than is necessary, and feeling a lack of control during said episodes
- Binge-eating is not followed by purging behaviors as bulimia nervosa is, rather, individuals who binge-eat are more likely to be overweight as a result
- Feelings of shame or guilt in regard to eating behaviors and bodily appearance are likely
In addition to disorder-specific signs, general signs are likely to be present too – a withdrawal from social situations especially if they involve food, a preoccupation with food/eating (rituals surrounding mealtimes), an obsession with perfectionism or the desire for the “ideal” body weight and a certain lack of control over the whole disorder.
What if I meet only some criteria/show some symptoms?
Again, every eating disorder is different. While there are various eating disorders themselves – anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) – which need to be taken into consideration, each client has their own story surrounding their ED situation. If you show one or two signs, you might not be experiencing a fully developed or advanced eating disorder, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
That being said, it is vitally important to reach out to an eating disorder counselor or specialist if you find yourself concerned for your own wellbeing or that of a loved one. While one or two symptoms might be displayed, or only one criterion is met, it is good to be aware of the reality that eating disorders tend to have a bit of a snowball effect.
For this reason, even if the signs seem slight, being aware of the situation is important for the health and safety of the individual involved. Plus, talking with a therapist offers good coping mechanisms, helpful nutritional information and healthy practices to minimize the occurrence of that one criterion or symptom.
Reaching out for help
Whether only one criterion is met, or the whole list of symptoms is identified in an individual, it’s important for the health and wellbeing of the individual to get in touch with someone who can help. While it might seem like no big deal skipping a meal or two, or trying out a new diet trend, what started as a harmlessly intentioned experiment could manifest into a much larger problem. Additionally, if any of the criteria are identified in an individual, it’s important to reach out to an eating disorder specialist so they can diagnose the disorder and prescribe the proper treatment right away.
To learn more about how eating disorders are diagnosed and whether treatment is right for you or your loved one, contact Seeds of Hope today at 610-644-6464.