Eating Disorders: Recognizing Them and Helping

The Signs
Although the reasons for eating disorders are diverse, the symptoms are quite common. Some of the symptoms of an eating disorder are obsessive exercise, calorie counting, fat gram counting, starvation or restriction, a compulsive interest in health and food issues, self-induced vomiting, and the use of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics. Another symptom is a persistently negative body image expressed constantly with statements like "I am so fat," "I hate my body," and "If I was thin everything would be better." People with eating disorders may express some of the above listed symptoms in patterns, fluctuating between what seems like healthy eating patterns and harmful ones.

When to Worry
What's the difference between someone who watches their weight and someone who has an eating disorder? Well, the difference really is the compulsive nature of the dieting. If a woman is constantly on diets, or always follows periods of normal food intake with periods of extreme guilt and dieting she may be suffering from an eating disorder. Anorexics will use elaborate excuses to avoid eating, such as "I already ate," "I'm not hungry," or "I have the flu." In their efforts to exert extreme control over their lives, they may become secretive about what they eat and when they eat. This is especially true when a woman who suffers from an eating disorder begins to feel that the people around her disapprove of her behavior.

How to Help
It is important when trying to help a person fight an eating disorder that you not narrowly focus on the eating habits, as they are really only her expression of an underlying emotional problem. This seems clear when you think about trying to convince someone who weighs 80 pounds that they are not fat. It just isn't all about being fat, otherwise she could see that she is starving; it is about what she needs and what meaning food has to her. There are many treatment options available, ranging from one-on-one therapy to support groups to hospitalization in the most severe cases. Of course, the first and most essential step will have to be hers.

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