In today’s society, fad diets, exercise trends and juice cleanses cloud our idea of what “health” truly is. It can blur the lines between wanting to be healthier, struggling with disordered eating or struggling with an eating disorder. But an important difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder is the severity in which the “abnormal” and intrusive behaviors around food and body occur.
Personally, I knew my behavior was a real problem just by the intensity and frequency of thoughts I had about food and body that I knew were not typical. They were obsessive, intrusive and always cruel. Being in recovery now, I am able to see even more how unhealthy my thoughts when I was sick were.
To find out when others realized their thoughts and behaviors surrounding food were more than just a habit, we asked people in our Mighty mental health community and eating disorder community to tell us “signs” that made them realize they had an eating disorder. It should be noted that this is not an all-inclusive list or a diagnostic test — just a tool for starting a conversation. If you see yourself in this list, and want to learn more, you can take this screening test provided by the National Eating Disorder Association. You can also visit their website to find treatment near you or call the call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
If you don’t see yourself in this list, and your relationship with food still makes you unhappy, don’t hesitate to still use the resources listed above. Your feelings are valid, and you don’t have to wait to get “bad enough” for help.
Here’s what people in our eating disorder community shared with us:
1. “I felt worthless when stepping on the scale, regardless of what the number was. If I gained I was useless, if I lost, I clearly was also useless as I could have lost more.” — Hannah T.
2. “I realized there was not a second in my life that my mind wasn’t consumed with thoughts/worries about food. Every decision I made was influenced by what food might be involved. I realized this consumed every inch of my being, and choked me like a heavy dusty blanket.” — Cara A.
3. “The moment I realized I couldn’t stop like I thought I could.” — Staci A.
4. “My desire to be ‘healthy’ was turning into my desire to not eat.” — Megan H.
5. “I started to hoard sweets, chocolate and other ‘junk foods’ in my room. The initial idea was that when I lost enough weight, I would treat myself to them. But when it actually got to that time, I was too scared.” — Rebecca D.
6. “I first learned about binge eating disorder (BED) in eighth grade. We got new health books and this eating disorder wasn’t in our previous one. I remember sitting in class and our teacher was having us read the chapters as each kid would read a paragraph, then the next kid would read, etc. when we got to BED, I remember trying so hard not to cry in a room full of my peers because, ‘OMG. This is what I do.’ It was a lightbulb that went off. It scared me so badly and gave me a little peace at the same time.” — Tiff K.
7. “I stopped going out to eat and avoided eating with other people as much as possible. I couldn’t stand to eat in front of other people for fear of judgment.” — Ronna H.
8. “I don’t think there was just one thing, but different occurrences together. Some include crying because I didn’t want to work out, but also crying because I didn’t want to get fat, avoiding situations where there was a lot of ‘bad’ foods, being cold on hot days.” — Sam A.
9. “I first wondered when I started getting scared of my weight going over a certain number. I remember writing in my diary, ‘Does a person know if she’s anorexic? I hope I’m not.’ I was 12-years-old at the time. I realized that I actually did have an eating disorder many months later when I was lying to my mom and my friends about what I was eating.” — Emily D.
10. “There was no ‘one sign.’ It was a combination of many little things that, taken separately, seemed perfectly harmless to me and even to others. It wasn’t until I had the realization that these little things were connected that I started to understand they were not harmless and I had a very real problem. I had to start to see the big picture before I was able to recognize that I needed help.” — Robbie K.
11. “It was all I thought about. My entire day revolves around the topic of food. I would bring every thought I had back to it or find a way to focus on it even more. I realized that it was dangerous when I couldn’t function around others because I was so absorbed in it. I had to leave school, couldn’t work or go to social events.” — Michelle B.
12. “When the numbers on the scale were used as the way to validate myself and my worth.” — Cheryl C.
13. “After I went from feeling happy and motivated to ‘eating healthy,’ to suddenly feeling guilty no matter what I ate. I started feeling ashamed, embarrassed and guilty for eating — even in the midst of my irrational anorexic thoughts I could see that that was a sign things were getting too far.” — Ella K.
14. “When I realized I was really unable to stop myself was a big moment.” — Laura G.
15. “I realized I had an issue when I was up crying at 3 a.m. because I was thirsty and the fear of gaining even water weight terrified me. Or when I would watch documentaries about the anorexia and bulimia to ‘punish myself’ for not being skinny enough. I am still ashamed of my diagnosis because of the way my body looks. You just have to surround yourself with positive people and remind yourself that you’re worth more than a number on a scale.” — Kirsten D.
16. “Avoiding parties or gatherings where food might be involved.” — Julia W.
17. “The biggest sign was that I spent more time obsessing over numbers and staring in mirrors than I did living or eating. My whole life revolved around that scale, those sizes, each calorie.” — Jordyn D.
18. “When I couldn’t get through a grocery store without a panic attack.” — Abby L.
19. “I realized my binge-eating disorder was real when I had $20 in my bank account and spent all but $3 on food for me to binge on by myself that night instead of putting gas in my car since my gas light was on.” — Caitlin A.
20. “When me and my family went out to dinner and the food wasn’t ‘right.’ It made me so anxious I broke down crying.” — Kayden L.
21. “The very idea of eating made me feel ashamed of myself. And seeing people eat less than I was was upsetting.” — Nicole M.
22. “When I couldn’t enjoy mealtime with my husband and children without great anxiety about what I was eating.” -Bethany D.
23. “Thinking of food all the time.” — Charlie H.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.