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4 Common Eating Disorder Behaviors We Need to Talk About

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

When I was deep in my eating disorder, I thought I had everything under control. I knew exactly what was going into my body, how much I weighed, what size jeans I wore and how to hide my disorder. Little did I know, my eating disorder was actually in control of me, and it was hiding a lot from me.

When I had my first treatment assessment, I was confused. The woman assessing me asked me questions that I had no idea how to answer. For the first time, I felt the slightest twinge of anger toward my eating disorder. I felt betrayed because it was making me do things I didn’t even realize I was doing. That anger was a good thing; it was the first sign I was ready to fight my eating disorder. Here are some behaviors many don’t realize could be a sign of an eating disorder.

1. Food rituals.

Food rituals are behaviors you use to make the act of eating less stressful. Some examples include cutting or ripping food into small pieces, eating foods in a certain order, taking a sip of water after every bite and putting excessive amounts of condiments, like salt and pepper, on your food. But food rituals depend on the person and can be anything someone does to help control anxiety around food.

2. Body checking.

Body checking is basically just overanalyzing your body. Body checking is something I’ve done since I was young, and never realized what I was doing until I entered treatment. It can be feeling your collarbones, wrapping your fingers around your wrists, pinching fat, spending hours looking at yourself in the mirror, etc. It is also related to body dysmorphia, because people who have body dysmorphic disorder do not have a consistent view of themselves. They can often feel the need to check to make sure their body has not changed drastically, or to measure themselves to see if they’ve gotten thinner. It is an unhealthy and obsessive behavior.

3. Preoccupation with eating disorders in the media.

Many people who have eating disorders obsessively watch films and TV shows about eating disorders, read books about eating disorders and read articles on websites about eating disorders. In some cases, this is an attempt to understand what the person struggling is going through and to feel less alone. In other cases, it is an extension of an obsession with food and weight.  Because there are so many graphic and triggering portrayals of eating disorders in the media, this is a dangerous behavior that should be addressed in therapy.

4. Manipulation.

An eating disorder can take over a person’s brain and make them into someone they are not. It can transform a person into someone who cares only about weight, food and numbers. Because of this, it is not uncommon for a person with an eating disorder to use any means necessary to enable their own illness. Someone with an eating disorder may say or do something he or she would never otherwise say or do in order to get someone to stop asking about what they are eating or why they’ve lost so much weight. They may also manipulate those who are trying to help them by trying to make those people feel guilty for asking so many questions or pushing the person to get better. The important thing to remember is this manipulation is
temporary. Once the person struggling enters recovery, they will learn to change this behavior. The dark cloud of the eating disorder will slowly fade away.

If someone you know is engaging in any of these behaviors, please talk to them about it. These are incredibly difficult behaviors to overcome alone, so please encourage them to seek help immediately. Remember that an eating disorder’s goal is to completely overtake someone until there is nothing left. Please don’t let it get that far. Whether they are engaging in all or some of these behaviors, help is available.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via ARTQU.

Originally published: September 1, 2017
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