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What are some warning signs of eating disorders?

By September 3, 2014 - 4:53pm
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I suspect my friend may have an eating disorder. She has been eating less, seems pretty stressed and doesn't eat a lot when we go to restaurants with friends. What are some common signs of eating disorders? And how do I approach her about it?

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HERWriter Guide

Hi Lindsay -

First, thanks for being concerned about your friend and wanting to help her. I'm glad you came to EmpowHER for more information - far too often people can make a situation worse by approaching it the wrong way.

Stress, all by itself, can result in a decreased appetite. An eating disorder is both a psychological and physical illness. From what you've observed, my first suggestion is to learn more about eating disorders so that you better understand them.

Your friend could be dealing with anorexia nervosa which is an eating problem that occurs when a person is extremely afraid of becoming overweight and therefore eats as little as possible.This can become very severe, leading to death from starvation or suicide, if the person doesn't get help.

We have a community section on the EmpowHER site where you can learn more about anorexia, here's the link. http://www.empowher.com/condition/anorexia-nervosa

The signs, or symptoms, of this disorder may include:


  • Excessive weight loss
  • Obsession with food, calories, and fat content
  • Dieting even when thin
  • Intense fear of gaining weight, even when underweight
  • Body dysmorphia—distorted self-image of being overweight despite evidence to the contrary
  • Basing self-evaluation heavily on body weight or shape
  • Loss of menstrual periods (secondary amenorrhea ) or delay in menarche (onset of periods)
  • Excessive exercising
  • Feeling cold, especially hands and feet
  • Being secretive about food
  • Hair loss and/or growth of fine hair on the body
  • Fainting or severe light-headedness
  • Constipation
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Heart palpitations

In terms of how to approach her, my second suggestion is that you find a non-threatening, private environment where you can talk to her and express your concerns about what you have observed and share that you are concerned about her. Don't start out by discussing eating disorders, express your concern for her as her friend. You will need to take some cues from her as to how far to push the conversation and it may take several conversations before she is comfortable sharing back with you, but don't give up. Until and unless she recognizes that there's a problem, it will be hard to get her to realize that she is going to need professional help. You may want to also explore whether there are any eating disorder treatment services in your local area, a safe place where she could meet others who are dealing with the same issues.

I encourage you to explore the articles on the EmpowHER site about eating disorders to gain more insight into the psychological aspects before you approach your friend. She will need strong support if she does indeed have an eating disorder and it may take quite a bit of time for her to go through the process of acknowledgement, treatment and recovery.

Please let us know if this is helpful and how you progress with your friend. We wish the very best for both of you and hope you are able to move your friend toward better health.




September 3, 2014 - 6:03pm
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