If you’re not sure whether disordered eating behaviors are symptomatic of an eating disorder, consider asking these questions:
- Are you unable to enjoy eating with friends or family because of your diet?
“We are social organisms, and healthy eating includes being able to eat in social groups,” Dr. Attia says. For example, not being able to enjoy a meal with friends because all you can think about is what you can’t order, or having to eat a different meal from the rest of your family because of food restrictions, could be signs of trouble.
“In the diagnostic criteria for some of the eating disorders, psychosocial changes or eating that interferes with social experiences is listed, and they serve as a real clue that something’s not right in the area of eating,” Dr. Attia says. “When eating behavioral changes get severe enough that somebody does meet the criteria for an eating disorder, we’ll commonly hear, ‘I take care of what it is that I need. I just don’t need to do it with anybody else.’ That’s not normal eating.”
- Have you noticed physical symptoms resulting from your eating patterns?
Feeling weak, dizzy, faint, or dehydrated, among many other physical signs, could mean you aren’t getting the nutrients you need. “If one is not eating appropriately or sufficiently, there can absolutely be changes to one’s vital signs,” says Dr. Attia. “Once we get into eating patterns that are associated with medical risk, we may be in the more formally recognized eating disorder categories.”
This can especially be the case when entire categories of food are left out of a diet. “For example, people don’t realize that excluding dietary fats means that every cell in the body that builds a membrane is missing a necessary building block,” she adds.
- Does a preoccupation with weight or body image negatively impact your life?
Some people are more susceptible to societal pressures around the pursuit of thinness or an unsustainable level of fitness, so it’s important to keep tabs on whether dissatisfaction with your body is leading to unhealthy behaviors and thoughts.
“We receive regular social messages that suggest we not eat in a healthful and balanced way or with joy and social connections,” Dr. Attia says. “Individuals who go on to develop formal eating disorders may feel that they are achieving higher health standards, when it’s the opposite of that. If there’s a real restriction to nutritional intake, it could get some vulnerable folks into a lot of trouble.”