How to Acknowledge an Eating Disorder

Diagnosis: Physical Exam

The most common physiological symptoms of eating disorders include, but aren’t necessarily limited to, high/low blood pressure, slow breathing and pulse rates, dry skin or hair, and brittle nails. All of these symptoms, tooth decay, heart irregularities, and extreme dehydration (the most tell tale sign of bulimia), are typical indications of bulimia. In a common doctor’s evaluation, a patient is normally given an x-ray and blood tests to ensure that there are no broken bones, blood levels are relatively normal, and the thyroid, liver, and kidneys are all working properly.

People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. However, the reality is that eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

Organs, chemicals, and processes that aid in digesting food are also tested quite thoroughly. Glucose, enzymes, electrolytes, and other components of the metabolism are examined to check if food is being broken down healthily. When an individual has an eating disorder, these metabolic elements can be damaged, possibly making them less efficient than they would be if the patient was healthy. Therefore, if the metabolism is damaged and any of the other symptoms are present, it’s usually safe to say that the individual has some kind of eating disorder (most likely bulimia).

Diagnosis: Mental Exam

When it comes to a psychological examination, the process is a bit more complex. The patient is asked with series of questions regarding an array of different topics including family medical history, eating and exercise habits, mental health, substance abuse, and thoughts and feelings toward food. The family’s medical past could show that there is a history of mental illness, substance abuse, eating disorders, obesity, and other factors. All of these illnesses and disorders could mean that the patient in question could be more susceptible to certain illnesses, particularly mental and eating disorders.

Sometimes attitudes and behaviors emerge in response to the overwhelming despair and hopelessness that accompanies watching a loved one starving herself/himself. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS

If the patient has some kind of mental illness or disorder such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or depression, there is a much higher probability of the development of an eating disorder. Of course, the fact that an individual has a mental illness does not in any way means that they must have an eating disorder. Instead, medical professionals look at these mental elements as combinations. If there are combinations of psychological and physiological issues that point to an eating disorder, most doctors will probably recommend some type of treatment plan, whether that be a treatment center, nutritional counseling, therapy, or medication.

How to Know When to Seek Medical Attention

The internet has a variety of resources and tools that make it easier than ever before to understand when you or someone you know may have some type of eating disorder, or if unhealthy eating habits are developing. If you or someone you love is suspected of having one, there are many different websites that provide screening tests that you can take. However, it’s important to remember that this is not a tool for diagnosis. These screening tests are simply a preliminary caution that lets you know if you should seek medical assistance.

Many people who don’t “look like they have an eating disorder” based on their weight, gender, or skin color are not identified as having an eating disorder by medical professionals. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.

There are also a variety of different hotlines, online resources, and non-profit organizations that are dedicated to helping those who have been diagnosed with or suspect that they have an eating disorder.

Here are just a few resources that could be of assistance:

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has an Information and Referral Helpline that is dedicated to provide information and support. The hotline is open Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 9 pm EST, and Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.

 NEDA Information and Referral Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) has a hotline that is available Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm CST. The helpline can also give information and support. They can also help you or someone you know to stop a binge eating episode, talk you through a meal, or just have a conversation that can distract you.

ANAD Hotline: (630) 577-1330

In a broader sense, there is a 24/7 hotline that you can text if you’re going through any kind of crisis. This service is completely free and confidential.

Crisis Textline: text “hello” to 741741