The Facts: Warning Signs


Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder

Some of the behaviors a parent might be observing as a loved one develops an eating disorder. Some are related to food, and some are not. Some are present before an eating disorder comes into the picture, and some increase in intensity as the illness progresses.

Around food:
♦ Dieting
♦ Avoiding a widening range of foods
♦ Avoiding situations where communal eating is expected
♦ New interest in "healthy," "low-fat," "low-carb" or "vegetarian" diets
♦ Inflexibility about what or when or how much to eat
♦ Unnatural focus on what others are eating
♦ Need to know calorie content of all foods
♦ Never available for family meals
♦ New interest in cooking and recipes but avoiding eating the food
♦ Foods, especially carbohydrates, disappearing quickly from the house (secret bingeing)
♦ Secretive or ritualistic eating 
♦ Avoiding food until certain hours
♦ Anger at others if pressed to eat something
♦ Fear of over-eating, or gaining weight from a particular meal or type of food

Around activity:
♦ Exercising intensely but without pleasure
♦ Needing to exercise to compensate for eating

♦ Failure to gain weight or height according to growth curve
♦ Weight loss at any time during childhood or adolescence

♦ A conviction that one is too large
♦ Unnatural focus on the flaws of a particular body part or aspect of the body
♦ Repetitive requests for reassurance about appearance

♦ Social withdrawal
♦ Reports others are newly judgmental or "not connecting"
♦ Inability to describe emotions

If a loved one shows only a few of the symptoms of an eating disorder, or denies that anything is wrong, this is not reason to put the issue aside. Denying and concealing symptoms are a common symptom of brain changes associated with eating disorders and resulting malnutrition, and many patients are unable to accurately report their thoughts or feelings. Early detection and assertive treatment are the best way to prevent chronic illness and death.

See our Diagnosis page for more information.

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Resources: Medical Risk Criteria


From the United States:

What constitutes an emergency when my loved one has an eating disorder?

by Dr. Mark Warren, of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders

Criteria for Hospital Admission for Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults With Eating Disorders, from Table 7 of the American Academy of Pediatrics 2010 Policy Statement: Identifying and Treating Eating Disorders.

From the AED:

AED Brochure 2012: Eating Disorders in the Emergency Department - Critical Points for the Recognition and Medical Management of Individuals with Eating Disorders in the Acute Care Setting, by the Academy for Eating Disorders. This brochure is designed for emergency department personnel. 

AED Report 2011: Critical Points for Early Recognition and Medical Risk Management in the Care of Individuals with Eating Disorders, by the Academy for Eating Disorders. This booklet is designed for physicians and contains information on how to diagnose, evaluate, and monitor eating disorder patients.

From the United Kingdom:
A Guide to the Medical Risk Assessment for Eating Disorders, by Professor Janet Treasure (2009)  from the Section of Eating Disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry and the Eating Disorders Unit at SLaM. This guide aims to help in the understanding of the medical risk in Eating Disorders, how to assess it, evaluate it and where to refer; and in the use of the Mental Health Act in treatment of Eating Disorders.

Research on Early Intervention


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This page was last updated: 4/2/2012 8:48:26 AM