3 Seemingly Normal Behaviors That May Be Signs Of An Eating Disorder
Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to notice and diagnose. They often hide under the surface until they reach their most severe stages and the majority of cases are never treated. Thankfully, there are a few signs you can look for before the disorder gets truly out of control.
Shape asked psychiatrist and active member of the National Eating Disorders Association Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, M.D., what some tell-tale signs are that you can keep an eye out for. She detailed three behaviors that may seem normal at first but are actually subtle signs of unhealthy behaviors that can lead to developing an eating disorder.
Pursuing unnecessary weight loss
Weight is a very poor indicator of health,” says Oliver-Pyatt, founder and executive director of the Oliver-Pyatt Centers in Miami, FL. “The World Health Organization (WHO) has their own definition of health, which actually encompasses a broader spectrum of health, including physical, mental, social, spiritual well-being. Oftentimes, people think they are doing something healthy when, in fact, it may not be,” she says.
Oliver-Pyatt says a prime example of this is when people try to force their bodies within the “normal range” of 18.5 and 24.9 on the Body Mass Index (BMI), even though that may not be best for them.
“There are many people whose natural body weight would put them at higher than 24.9 BMI. Some of the most elite athletes in the world have a technically obese BMI,” she explains. “One big problem is that people are losing too much body fat, which can bring about infertility and osteoporosis. Women, on average, should have about 25 percent body fat—it’s a physiological necessity. Fat helps your body and brain function better. It’s not a bad thing,” says Oliver-Pyatt.
Exercising through an injury
Recent exercise trends have increasingly leaned towards high-intensity workouts like CrossFit and Tabata, but these types of exercises also carry increased risk of injury. When this happens, it is important to take the time to step-back and recover, but those who are beginning to obsess over weight might not know when to stop.
“When a person is working out while wearing, say, a stress-fracture boot, a lot of times, you may see this being applauded. They might hear, ‘Wow, you’re really tough! Good job!'” Oliver-Pyatt says. “When it comes to alcoholism or a drug problem, everyone agrees that you should stay away from those vices that are causing harm. But with exercise and healthy eating, a person can get into this area where they are having problems with it, and since it generally falls into this healthy category, people—from friends to doctors—may reinforce it,” Oliver-Pyatt says.
“People do die from eating disorders and so if someone is injured or malnourished and obsessively exercising, it is important for people to step in. Try to use ‘I’ language so that you’re not blaming anyone. Maybe say something like: ‘I want to know if I could talk to you about something. It’s a bit of a difficult subject, but I’m concerned and I wasn’t sure how to approach you about it. I just have some concerns about your well-being, considering that you’re wearing a boot and still putting so many demands on your body. I feel like you might need a break and it’s hard for you to give it to yourself.'”
Choosing to work out rather than workout
“Someone who is an over-exerciser will forfeit social activities for the sake of having an opportunity to work out. The term is called normative discontent, which is the normalization of food and body preoccupation. It’s normalized, but this behavior (i.e. always being on Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or using being vegan as an excuse to bring snacks to a restaurant) isn’t actually bringing about the definition of overall health that the WHO talks about,” Oliver-Pyatt says.
When trying to approach someone after noticing this type of behavior, Oliver-Pyatt says the most important thing is to put yourself in their shoes and bring up what you have in common to make sure you get herd. You should also always try to validate their emotional state.
“For example, if you say, ‘When you decided to go running instead of come to my birthday party, I understood that was really important to you because you really care about your health. At the same time, I was really hurt because our relationship really means a lot to me and I missed you.’ Once you validate them and show them that you are emotionally vulnerable too, they’ll be more willing to hear what you say next,” Oliver-Pyatt says. “Appealing to the emotional experience you are having and trying to describe it can help you form a bridge of communication. That’s really the best way to convey your concerns to this person.”