When you hear the words eating disorder, what do you think of?
Does the image of someone who is extremely thin and frail come to mind? Or, do you associate it with eating behaviours? Chances are you thought of the former, and that’s okay. A common misconception in relation to eating disorders is that they are related to a desire to be thin. The reality is that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses with life-threatening potential – they do not have a look!
Eating disorders are actually more common than we think, with nearly 1 million Canadians meeting the criteria for diagnosis of an eating disorder in 2016¹. Unfortunately, a lot of people who do suffer from an eating disorder either do not fit into the criteria for diagnosis or are simply not aware that they are suffering. It is important to recognize the signs of an eating disorder so that we can raise awareness and encourage loved ones, or ourselves, to get the help needed to recover.
Who can have an eating disorder?
Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of their gender, age, racial/ethnic identity, sexual orientation or socio-economic background¹. They can present themselves in athletes, people with dysfunctional family dynamics and/or childhood traumas, and people who are pressured by their cultural values or their peers, to name a few².
Ultimately, anyone can be at risk of developing an eating disorder.
Fortunately, eating disorders are treatable with the help of a professional. In order to recognize that someone needs help, we would first need to recognize the signs and symptoms present in people suffering with eating disorders.
*Psychological signs may not always be obvious because they are a reflection what goes on in the mind of the person suffering
What can be done?
As you can see, suspicions about the presence of an eating disorder are not solely based on weight. Addressing some of these points with someone you care about can be delicate. It is important to remember to approach this topic by sharing your concern and to avoid accusing them of their actions or assuming that you know what they are experiencing. The following are ways that you can approach the situation with a loved one:
- Ask questions about how they are feeling,
- Ask if they have observed any changes in their behaviours recently,
- Ask what motivates these changes,
- Share your concern with them regarding the physical, behavioural and psychological signs that you may have observed.
If you do not feel ready for this dialogue with a person, you can reach out to various groups and networks to receive support on how to approach this and what to do. It is important to remember that a loved one may not be willing nor ready to change.
The key point is that anyone can be at risk for developing an eating disorder, regardless of their race, gender, lifestyle factors, etc. It is important to be observant of the signs that could be seen in loved ones and to attempt to gently push them toward seeking help.
DISCLAIMER: The information and material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. Our blog posts are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare professional if you have any questions regarding a medical condition.
Ariel Comtois, Registered Dietitian
Vanessa Anoia, Office Coordinator
- National Initiative for Eating Disorders. (2020). Eating Disorders in Canada, NIED. https://nied.ca/about-eating-disorders-in-canada/
- Eating Disorder Hope. (2018). Eating Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Signs & Medical Complications. Eating Disorder Hope. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder
- National Eating Disorders Collaboration (n.d.) Friends, Families, Carers. National Eating Disorders Collaboration https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/early-intervention/carers/
- National Eating Disorders Collaboration (n.d.) Types of Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorders Collaboration https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/types/