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  • Writer's pictureLauren Drago

What is "Normal Eating"? Help Recognizing the Signs of an Eating Disorder

The holidays are approaching. With Halloween at the helm of the season's kick-off, most of us are gazing from our overflowing candy bowls and straight into two more months of festivities that center around food, drinks, and treats. Especially as women, our relationships with our bodies, food, and weight can be complicated. It can feel like an ongoing struggle. Regardless of the time of year, you may find yourself wondering, "are my thoughts about food/my body/exercise/weight normal? ... Is my behavior normal? ... Am I in control, or is something else?"

While the holidays make this topic timely, one thing to be clear about is that Eating Disorders are not seasonal. They are ongoing, difficult, and multi-layered conditions that don't discriminate: they affect all ages, races, genders, ethnicities. Eating Disorders are shrouded in a struggle of secrecy, shame, and control. This can make them so difficult to confront.

Eating Disorders also take on many more forms than just the more well-known conditions of anorexia and bulimia: for example, did you know that there is a condition marked by an extreme fixation on the quality, purity, and perceived health of food? Called Orthorexia, it's described below.

Last week, I visited Walden Behavioral Care's location in Guilford, Connecticut to learn more about the personalized treatment for eating disorders they provide at their multiple locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Georgia. I was incredibly impressed by the skilled, warm, and caring clinicians I met there. In learning more about the excellent services provided by Walden, I realized that many people may not know where to turn when struggling with an Eating Disorder. Help is not only available, but early treatment can lead to even more hopeful outcomes.

I want to pass along some of the valuable information that might help you better understand if you or a loved one might benefit from professional help in the identification and treatment of an eating disorder. Seeking treatment could save a life.

Definitions of Currently Identified Eating Disorders: please note that the following descriptions are limited and for informational purposes only. They are not intended to diagnose a condition. If you have concerns about the presence of an Eating Disorder or other signs of disordered eating patterns, please reach out to me for a consultation, or seek help from an organization like Walden or another trusted professional who has experience in treating eating disorders.

Anorexia: continual behavior of self-starvation and food restriction, which is motivated by an intense and pervasive fear of gaining weight, and/or poor body-image/distorted body-image. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Bulimia: consumption of large amounts of food over a short period of time that is then followed by an effort to undo the consumption, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative use, or over-exercise.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED): frequent episodes of consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time, with the aftermath of feelings of loss of control, shame, and guilt. BED does not involve any compensatory behavior, as Bulimia does.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): highly selective eating, inconsistent eating patterns, or both are present. ARFID doesn't occur together with body image concerns and does not occur as a result of a medical condition. It does encompass some cases of extreme picky eating.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED): this diagnosis is given when an individual displays similar symptoms, yet does not fully meet the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Orthorexia: marked by an extreme and pervasive fixation with the quality and purity of food. This condition often follows diets that are based on consumption of "healthy food."

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Diabulimia: when an individual diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes exhibits signs similar to anorexia, bulimia, and other EDs, often with the manipulation of insulin, in an effort to lose weight.

Additional Signs and Symptoms:

Body image or concern that doesn't match reality

Fear of becoming fat

Adhering to self-imposed food/eating "rules"

Dieting even though already thin

Frequent trips to the bathroom

Avoiding situations where food is available

Social withdrawal

Eating when full

Often eating alone

Eating large amounts of food

Excessive rigid exercise or obsession with exercise

Complaints of being depressed, cold, or tired

My hope is that this guide raises your awareness of the extremely wide range of thoughts and behaviors that constitute Eating Disorders. There are so many people who struggle with constant and continual body dissatisfaction, and have complex and challenging eating attitudes and behaviors. You can help by:

- Being honest about your concerns. Have an open discussion in which you offer support. Reserve judgment, blame, or anger, all which can pop up when trying to intervene with someone struggling with an eating disorder.

- Assist the individual in making an appointment with an experienced and qualified doctor or counselor; help them find the right match for treatment.

- Don't go it alone. Treatment for eating disorders involves everyone and this also means that everyone involved benefits from talking to a professional who can provide support and guidance.

Eating disorders have serious consequences. But there is so much hope for those who seek treatment. Don't hesitate. Follow your instincts and reach out for help today. While it requires courage and commitment, it is a decision I guarantee you will never regret.

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Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and serving greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 or email for your free initial consultation.

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