How to Tell if Somebody You Know Has an Eating Disorder

Caitlin is a 16-year-old from Simsbury, CT. She likes to write, make things with clay, and really wants a dog. Her two favorite subjects are Art and English.

The symptoms of having an eating disorder might sound simple enough: losing weight rapidly, becoming less social, wearing baggy clothes, and hiding food. These signs, however, are not easy to notice and the absence of some of these signs does not mean that your child is not afflicted by an eating disorder.

When I was 13, I thought that losing weight could solve all of my problems. After all, the popular girls were thin and they were happy. They had boyfriends and nice clothes. I attributed all of these wonderful things to their weight and figured that, with diligence and persistence, I too could be popular. I too could be perfect.

While these thoughts do not make sense, they are common in a lot of pre-teens and teenagers. As teenage bodies change, weights fluctuate and leave hipbones and knobby knees covered in new curves. These new bodies contrast greatly with the rail-thin models seen on runways and even with other classmates who’s bodies have not yet matured.

My body was one of those that matured fast. I found myself surrounded by girls who did not know that there were pants larger than a size zero, and I felt insecure that I could not relate.

I resorted to changing my diet and started to exercise more consistently. While this can be done in a healthy way, I limited my calories drastically under the recommended amount and started to hide food that I didn’t want to consume. I tracked every calorie religiously and became panicked when a “forbidden food” was placed in front of me to eat.

While this was happening, I did not know I was developing distorted eating and neither did my parents. They thought that I was starting healthier habits.

Over time, my weight became so low that they couldn’t help but notice that something was not right. I didn’t like to eat in front of people, and when I did I had to cut my food into tiny pieces so that it would take me longer to finish. They started to notice napkins in the garbage filled with remains of dinner. My clothes began to sag off of me, and my body started to return to a pre-pubescent state.

These are all signs that someone is developing anorexia, yet the people afflicted with the disorder know how to hide these habits so that others do not suspect anything.

Anorexia is not the only eating disorder, and it is one of the only ones that can be spotted by excessive weight loss. The most common eating disorder in America is compulsive overeating, or binge eating. This is very different than anorexia as, instead of the enemy, food is viewed as a friend, a dangerous friend. “Binges” are defined as short periods of time in which an abnormally large amount of food is consumed in private, usually followed by extreme guilt. Sometimes purging or exercising until all remains of food are gone may follow these binges. These latter instances are examples of bulimia and compulsive exercising.

The one thing that anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and compulsive exercising have in common is that all of these disorders feed on insecurity. They are also “lonely” disorders because it is hard to hide these habits when faced with a birthday party or sleepover, thus solitude is preferred.

If these disorders are not caught, they can lead to severe health complications and possibly death. Depression is also common, as are thoughts of suicide. Anorexia has a death rate of 12 times greater than any other mental disorder.

To get over my illness, my parents had me see a therapist, a nutritionist, and a doctor to check my weight. While all three of these might not be necessary for treatment, having someone who has experience with eating disorders to talk with is helpful. The one action that is necessary is to address the problem. If the eating disorder goes on for too long, than the person is at a higher risk for health complications, and will also face a harder recovery process. The best thing you can do for someone suffering is to talk to them and get them help.

For more information on eating disorders and treatment, you can visit

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One Response to “How to Tell if Somebody You Know Has an Eating Disorder”

  1. Rachel Fields
    February 8, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    I am a Clinical Psychologist and I work with teens who are struggling with eating disorders. That was very well said and I think I will share it with my patients! Good job!


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