Eating Disorders: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

Eating Disorders: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

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Eating disorders affect all populations — people of every age, race, gender identity, weight, body shape, sexual orientation, and background. It’s estimated that over 30 million Americans have experienced an eating disorder in their lives. If you have an eating disorder or know someone who does, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Support is available 

Doctors, therapists, and registered dietitians are here to help you on Amwell. You can also confidentially chat, call, or text the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: Click here for more information. If you are in crisis, you can text “NEDA” to 741741 anytime to be connected to a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. If it’s an emergency, call 911 or go to your local emergency department.   

The term “eating disorder” can be confusing and sometimes misused, so it might be helpful to brush up on the facts below:  

What is an eating disorder? 

Eating disorders are serious, treatable mental and physical illnesses that involve disruptions with eating behaviors and related thoughts and/or emotions.  

There are many types of eating disorders. The most common include: 

  • Anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia nervosa are usually intensely worried about being overweight so they restrict the food they eat, exercise excessively, or force themselves to lose weight in unhealthy ways such as vomiting or using laxatives even when their body is underweight or is not growing appropriately for their age  
  • Binge eating disorder: People with binge eating disorder may lose control over their eating habits and frequently eat large amounts of food. They may eat even when they aren’t hungry, until they are uncomfortably full, or when alone so that others do not see.  
  • Bulimia nervosa: People with bulimia nervosa might frequently eat large amounts of food and feel like they have no control over their overeating. This binge eating is often followed by behaviors to lose weight or make up for overeating such as excessive exercise, forced vomiting, or fasting. 

Signs and symptoms of eating disorders  

People with eating disorders are not likely to experience all these symptoms at once  the list below serves as an overview of the most common signs of eating disorders.  

Emotional and behavioral signs 

In general, attitudes and behaviors that indicate control of food and weight loss are something to pay attention to. Here are some examples: 

  • Discomfort when eating around others 
  • Extreme concern about weight, food, fat, and/or calories 
  • Feelings of deep shame around inability to control weight, or control binging or purging 
  • Frequent dieting or trying new fad diets 
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions 
  • Preoccupation with body size and shape 
  • Mood swings  
  • Withdrawing from friends or usual activities  

Physical signs 

Eating disorders can also show up in physical ways, such as:  

  • Changes in weight  
  • Feeling cold all the time  
  • Menstrual changes or missed periods 
  • Sleep difficulties  
  • Dry skin or brittle nails 
  • Dental problems or cavities  
  • Dizziness or fainting 
  • Stomach cramps  
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Weak immune system  
  • Trouble concentrating  

Steps for care  

If you have an eating disorder, think you might have one, or are concerned about a loved one, it’s important to talk to a medical professional as early as possible. You are not alone. Treating eating disorders usually involves a support team that might consist of a doctor, therapist, and/or registered dietitian. Treatment plans are personalized based on the individual’s needs and may include: 

You can talk to a therapist, psychiatrist, and/or registered dietitian from home using Amwell. Visits are private, secure, and available from anywhere on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. While not all of our providers specialize in eating disorders, Amwell Medical Group has a large network who is available to help you.  

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