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  • Grace Dowd

Recognizing Signs of Disordered Eating in Loved Ones

Like most things, eating disorders exist on a spectrum and no one eating disorder is alike. While there are many signs and symptoms that overlap, each person who experiences disordered eating or an eating disorder may experience it in a different way. So, as a loved one, be it a parent, partner, sibling, friend, or any other role you may be in, it is important to understand some of the warning signs that a loved one may be dealing with disordered eating.



Like all mental health conditions, eating disorders do not discriminate based on gender, sexuality, age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and many other factors. Though some may have higher predispositions, anyone at any time can develop an eating disorder. You may begin to suspect someone is engaging in disordered eating patterns and behaviors, but do not know yet how or if to address it. Intervention and social support is a vital part of eating disorder recovery.




A few, but not all, signs that a loved one may be struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder include:

  • Increased preoccupation with food, nutrition, and what both they and others are eating

  • Eating in secrecy

  • Frequent dieting

  • Changes in portion sizes at meals, either increased or decreased

  • New or surprising behaviors during meals and at the table

  • Preoccupation with weight, body image, and tracking nutrition and exercise

  • Avoidance of social situations that may involve food or increased attention on bodies

  • Frequent dieting

  • Increase in mood symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and panic


The list mentioned above does not encompass all potential eating disorder behaviors because, as mentioned previously, each individual person will experience eating disorders in a unique and personalized way. The person who best understands the entirety of their own eating disorder is the loved one themself. It is important to remember that not all eating disorders revolve around weight loss and body image and there is not a certain “look” to eating disorders. While many eating disorders do have some component of body image, it is important to not make assumptions about what your loved one’s eating disorder appears to be and the function it serves for them.


Eating disorders can serve a variety of different purposes, such as control of situations and circumstances that feel out of control, a way to numb out painful emotions and memories, avoidance of reality, a task and way to see achievement, and more. Through therapy and a skilled treatment team, many people are able to recognize the function of their eating disorder and move towards the freedom of full recovery.



It can be scary, overwhelming, and confusing to suspect that a loved one may be struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder. It is important that we do not ignore signs and symptoms and approach the topic from a place of curiosity and kindness. This may look like a simple check-in with the loved one by saying “I wanted to check-in and see how you’re doing, I care about you a lot” or by gently and with grace offering to help them find resources for support. Eating disorders are challenging and scary for the person living with the disorder, so warmth and patience is of utmost importance in this process of recovery. Full recovery is possible and freeing. A support system that understands the delicacy and resiliency of eating disorder recovery can be a significant factor in the outcome and treatment of eating disorders.


If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for support from a professional.


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