8 Warning Signs of Eating Disorders

A thin woman with a tangled tape measure around her waist.

Millions of college students suffer from eating disorders.

It’s likely you’ve heard of eating disorders, but you might not know are the warning signs of these dangerous diseases. Eating disorders– predominantly anorexia and binge eating– are more prominent on college campuses than most people think.

Heading to college is a time full of transition—you’re interacting with new people, you’re responsible for yourself and you have to adapt to a new environment. While this time is fun and exciting, it is also a time of vulnerability. That’s what makes students more vulnerable to eating disorders as they enter into college.

This is a topic that hits close to home for me since one of my best friends developed anorexia during high school. Without knowing the warning signs, I didn’t even realize she had the disease until she had to be admitted into treatment. That’s why I believe that knowledge of these eating disorders is so incredibly important—it can mean the difference between catching it early and years of treatment, or even the difference between life and death.

So, what are the warning signs?

  1. Refusing to eat
    I’ve had my share of friends who never seem to eat, but take notice—if someone you know consistently refuses to eat, it could be an indicator of an eating disorder. This can also take the form of a friend who avoids spending time with you at meal times.
  2. Throwing up
    This might seem obvious, but it’s also a sign that can be easily overlooked. Even if a friend jokes about throwing up after eating, it could be a serious issue with bulimia.
  3. Losing weight
    This, again, probably seems obvious, but sometimes we don’t take notice to gradual changes. In the case with my friend, I didn’t notice when she lost weight because she’d always been thin. Looking back, I should have been alarmed when her face became thin and I could see her collarbones.
  4. Distorted body image
    It’s common to doubt oneself now and again, but when someone consistently calls himself or herself fat even when they’re extremely thin, it could be a sign of a dangerous eating disorder.
  5. Counting calories
    This sign was where I should have begun to notice my friend’s weight loss and disease. If your friend constantly counts calories when he/she is thin, and the calorie count seems to be extremely low, he/she could be at the beginning stages of an eating disorder.
  6. Wearing baggy clothing
    This sign is directed specifically at females. If a friend’s clothing choices change from fitted clothing to clothes that seem to be much too large, it could be an indicator of a distorted body image.
  7. Cooking for others
    If a friend seems to really enjoy food and cooking, but never eats what he/she cooks, they may be suffering from anorexia.
  8. Body hair
    When the body is starved of essential nutrients and becomes thin, a fine layer of hair will appear all over the body as a way of keeping warm. A thin appearance coupled with body hair could be a sign of an eating disorder.

I want to make the point that these signs do not automatically mean that someone has an eating disorder. These are simply common signs among people who do have these illnesses. If you see these signs in a friend, talk to them gently and express your concern.

If you have an eating disorder, or suspect a friend of having an eating disorder, you can stop by Counseling & Wellness Services in the Integrated Wellness Center 222, or call 507-457-5330 to make an appointment. You can also find a lot of information and support at the National Eating Disorder Association website.

–Leah Dobihal

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