Do I have an Eating Disorder? 10 Important Questions to Ask Yourself and How to Find Help

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Do you feel like your thoughts about food are out of control? Do you think your thoughts about food and your body have negatively affected your mental health? Have you asked yourself, “Do I have an eating disorder?”

According to the ANAD – The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders – around 9% of the US population (28.8 million people) will suffer from an eating disorder at some point. Eating disorders are a chronic issue that can occur due to our society’s obsession with appearance and unattainable beauty standards.

In this post, we cover the 10 key questions to ask yourself if you think you have an eating disorder and provide resources for seeking help. Whether or not your suspicions about an eating disorder are accurate, understanding more about potential warning signs can help you assess your current state of mind and reveal potential areas that require attention.

1. Do I have an unhealthy relationship with food?

When asking yourself if you have an unhealthy relationship with food or an eating disorder, look closely at your thoughts and behaviors surrounding food consumption.

Take note of how you feel before, after, and during your meals to understand why you make your food choices. Controlling food intake and weight management can be an unhealthy coping mechanism for stress caused by mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Understanding why we make certain food choices is often the first step to healing from an eating disorder.

2. Do I eat more or less than is considered normal in social settings?

Hiding unhealthy behaviors or an eating disorder from others in social settings is a sign of disordered eating. For example, if you binge eat, you may eat less in public so no one would suspect you overeat in private.

If you are unsure if you do this, try this experiment. Next time you have a social gathering with food, like a cookout, briefly look around and notice if others are eating like you are. If you notice a difference between the amount you and others are eating, it may indicate that your relationship with food needs to be addressed.

3. Do I find myself obsessing over the number of calories in certain items?

Obsessively counting calories can cause you to constantly think about food and what you’re going to eat next. This obsession with calories can also lead to anxiety and guilt when eating anything that is perceived as high-calorie, leading to further disordered eating habits.

It’s important to note that calorie counting is not inherently unhealthy. In fact, it can be a helpful tool for those trying to maintain a healthy weight or track nutrient intake. However, when calorie counting becomes an obsession or a full-blown eating disorder, it can cause stress, anxiety, or other health issues.

4. Do I punish myself if I eat something unhealthy or indulge in a larger-than-usual portion size?

Many people who suffer from an eating disorder are preoccupied with control, and punishing oneself for perceived food “mistakes” is a common manifestation of this obsession. The guilt and shame associated with eating something outside of rigid rules can lead to a vicious cycle that perpetuates disordered eating behaviors. Punishments for eating more than you think you should can also manifest in other ways, such as over-exercising, restricting food, or inducing vomiting.

It is crucial to recognize that food is not inherently good or bad, and indulging in a treat or eating a larger portion than usual is entirely normal and healthy. Therefore, learning to be kind to yourself and allowing yourself to enjoy food without punishing yourself afterward is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship with food.

5. Do I set unrealistic and extreme goals regarding weight, diet, and exercise?

This behavior can manifest as obsessing over tracking calories or macronutrients, cutting out entire food groups, compulsively exercising, and fixating on achieving a certain weight or body shape.

While it’s normal to have fitness and weight goals, the critical difference between a healthy mindset and a disordered one lies in how you approach these goals. People with disordered eating patterns or an eating disorder often set unrealistic and unhealthy goals or make them feel guilty or ashamed if they aren’t achieved. This is because they view reaching these goals as the only way to achieve self-worth and acceptance.

The problem with these extreme goals is that they’re often unsustainable and lead to patterns of restriction and binging. For example, cutting out entire food groups or obsessing over achieving a specific weight or shape can lead to feelings of deprivation and cravings, eventually leading to binges or overeating. Additionally, excessive exercise can lead to physical and mental burnout and injury.

It’s important to remember that achieving a certain weight or body shape does not inherently bring happiness or self-worth. Full acceptance if your body right now, even while on a health and wellness journey, is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship with food and exercise. This means setting realistic and manageable goals and acknowledging that progress comes in small steps, not in giant leaps.

6. Do I have feelings of guilt or shame that interfere with my ability to enjoy meals?

Guilt and shame associated with eating certain foods, larger portion sizes, and indulgent items can lead to a vicious cycle wherein you restrict your diet even further to ‘undo’ the perceived mistake of overeating. These are classic signs of an eating disorder.

The key difference between healthy and disordered behavior lies in how we approach our goals – healthy goals should be realistic and manageable. They shouldn’t come with guilt or shame if they aren’t achieved.

7. Am I engaging in behaviors to control my weight, such as fasting, excessive exercising, taking laxatives or diuretics, and vomiting after eating?

Guilt and shame associated with eating certain foods, larger portion sizes, and indulgent items can lead to a vicious cycle wherein you restrict your diet even further to ‘undo’ the perceived mistake of overeating. These are classic signs of an eating disorder.

The key difference between healthy and disordered behavior lies in how we approach our goals – healthy goals should be realistic and manageable. They shouldn’t come with guilt or shame if they aren’t achieved.

8. Have friends or family expressed concern about my level of restraint around food and how much/little I am eating?

People with eating disorders may not realize how their eating disorder has changed them. The eating disorder may give them a false sense of control or even satisfaction from their strict diet and exercise regimen. However, family and friends may see a significant change in your actions and appearance.

For example, someone might notice a significant change in weight, physical symptoms like dizziness or mental fogginess, or a change in eating habits like not eating a food that used to be your favorite.

This can be a touchy subject because some find themselves in situations where family or friends comment about their food choices and appearance in ways that are harmful and distressing. There are healthy ways people can express concern for others, but know it is never acceptable to be talked to disrespectfully. So take the time to decipher whether comments from friends and family are intended to hurt or help you.

Filtering through the validity of others’ concerns can be confusing, so it may help to go to someone you trust to discuss this topic in detail.

9. Does worrying about what and how much to eat make it hard to concentrate on anything else?

Research shows that individuals with eating disorders often report difficulty concentrating and poor cognitive functioning. Poor cognitive function may be due to the effects of malnutrition and the toll an obsession with food and body image can have on mental health.

Furthermore, the pressure to adhere to strict dietary rules can create social isolation and negatively impact relationships, as food becomes the primary focus in social situations. This can lead to anxiety, guilt, and shame around eating, further perpetuating disordered thinking and behavior patterns.

10. Is it difficult for me to listen to my body?

When we struggle to listen to our bodies, we disassociate from our physical needs and cues. This can happen for various reasons, such as a preoccupation with controlling our body shape or size, societal pressure to adhere to strict dietary rules, or emotional distress that manifests in disordered eating behaviors.

When we ignore or override our body’s signals, such as hunger, fullness, and fatigue, we risk developing patterns of disordered eating that can negatively impact our physical and emotional health.

For example, regularly skipping meals can lead to health issues like hypoglycemia, poor concentration, and a weakened immune system. However, ignoring our body’s signals to rest can lead to burnout and chronic fatigue.

Learning to listen to our bodies is crucial in developing a healthier relationship with food and our physical selves. This can involve practices such as intuitive eating, which emphasizes tuning into our body’s needs and cravings without judgment, and mindfulness practices that help us cultivate a greater awareness of our thoughts and feelings.

By learning how to listen to the cues your body gives, you can cultivate the awareness and compassion necessary to help you to heal from disordered eating.

How to find help to grow a healthy relationship with food

If you have asked yourself, “Do I have an eating disorder?” and you resonnate with some of the questions above, know you are not alone. Have hope because a healthy relationship with food is completely possible! To heal your eating disorder, it’s essential to understand what a healthy relationship with food looks like, receive a professional diagnosis, and have guidance along the way.

Developing a healthy relationship with food is about learning to trust the cues your body sends, recognizing that you are more than your physical appearance, and finding meaning in other areas of life. Proper treatment and support can overcome the cycle of disordered eating and cultivate a lifelong relationship with food that supports our overall health and well-being.

Treatment for an eating disorder often includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on challenging and replacing negative thoughts and behaviors around food with positive self-talk and coping strategies. Professionals, such as dietitians and therapists, provide treatments and support to get to the root causes for disordered eating behaviors.

If you are ready for an answer to the question, “Do I have an eating disorder?” talk to one of our licensed therapists specializing in eating disorders about diagnosis and how to recover. Call us or start here to make an appointment and start the healing process today.

For more resources on information about disordered eating, specific eating disorders, and body dismorphia, check out some of our other blog posts here:

Disordered Eating: 7 Important Things to Know

Eating Disorders And The 8 Best Recipes For Better Body Image

Body Dysmorphia Weight Loss: How to Know if you Have Body Dysmorphia

Picture of Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

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