A stereotypical image of somebody struggling with an eating disorder is a thin, teenage girl battling anorexia. Yet, the truth is eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes and genders, and it isn’t always possible to tell if someone is struggling with one just on appearance alone. Eating disorders charity Beat explains that 6.4% of those struggling with an eating disorder are adults, not teenagers and the majority are suffering from bulimia, binge eating and then forced vomiting. On first appearance this is difficult to spot due to sufferers often staying within normal weight range. Men can struggle too, with several high profile male figures such as Cricketer Freddie Flintoff recently revealing he suffered from an eating disorder for years during his time in the sport.

Eating disorders are even more difficult to spot due to the secretive nature that surrounds them. ‘An individual can be struggling for some time before their illness is detected or before they themselves realize they have a problem’, explains Mary George of Beat. So what are the telltale signs if you are worried someone is struggling?

1) Spending large amounts of time in the bathroom

 Those with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia may spend large amounts of time in the bathroom, particularly straight after meals or after eating high caloric food’s. If this is the case, they are likely ‘purging’ the food- either due to fear of weight gain, guilt around what they have consumed or due to excessive eating.

2) Excessive exercise

 Those who struggle with eating disorders are sometimes prone to excessive exercise. In the case of anorexia this is due to an obsession with burning calories- either the ones they have already consumed, or in some cases burning ‘extra’ for weight loss. For bulimics, it could be due to the guilt of binge eating or if they are in the ‘starvation’ period. After a binge it could be their way of ‘controlling’ what they have consumed.

3) Resistance to food

 Those who struggle to understand eating disorders sometimes assume that those suffering have little or no willpower around food- when in fact, it is the opposite. Eating disorder sufferers can be fixated on what they are consuming and are often experts on calories, food labels and how much they have consumed that day. For those with binge eating disorder, it can appear to be a form of chaotic ‘out of control’ eating, but this is often followed by purging and periods of starvation- which takes significant willpower to sustain. Eating disorder sufferers sometimes ‘fear’ certain foods that they know will lead to restrictive or ‘trigger’ behaviours. Common foods they may refuse to eat (or eat too much of) are high calorie/high carb foods such as cakes and bread as well as overly large portions.

4) Secretive behaviour around food

 Due to the secretive nature around food, those with eating disorders often try and hide what they are (or not) eating to make sure those around them are not aware of the issue. This includes secret stashes of food away from the kitchen in the case of bulimics or throwing away food so as not to consume the calories in the case of anorexics. They may also prefer not to eat in social situations at all where they can better control their behaviour around food.

5) Restlessness and hyperactivity

Eating disorders play havoc with people’s hormones meaning sufferers may appear happy and content one minute, and moody and sullen the next. A common side of eating disorders is depression and isolation, but so too is restlessness and hyperactivity. Especially when hungry or in danger of a binge, those with eating disorders may become suddenly busy or frantic to try and avoid food. If you notice they make excuses to avoid meals or don’t wish to eat, this can also be a telltale sign.

What to do?

If you suspect someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to encourage them to seek help. This can sometimes be difficult as often the sufferer is in denial they have a problem and see the disorder as a way to ‘manage’ their relationship with food.


The Choices Personalized Retreats Program can help build awareness, increase motivation, teach skills towards recovery of an eating disorder through private an intensive CBT and Mindfulness program. This helps learn improved ways of coping with food and the attitude to the body.

Find out more here: https://www.choicesretreats.com/eating-disorders/


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