Behavioural indicators: There are several indicators/signs that someone struggling with an eating disorder such as Anorexia might present with, the most obvious being related to behavioural changes. Examples of how someone’s behaviour might change when they are in the grips of an eating disorder are all centred around an individual’s preoccupation with food, and the effect that they believe it (food) will have on their body weight/shape. This preoccupation with food is likely to be presented in their display of behaviour that cannot be deemed as being ‘normal’, with examples of such behaviour including: refusing to eat in public, instead hiding food to eat in secret, eating tiny portions, cutting food into very small pieces, chewing each bite an excessive number of times, and eating very slowly.
Other ways in which someone might display their obsession with food in a more discrete way is under the disguise of taking up cooking as a ‘hobby.’ One way to determine whether this is a disordered behaviour is by discovering whether they eat the food they cook for others, or whether they simply get their supposed ‘enjoyment’ from watching cooking shows/collecting recipes/cooking things that they don’t allow themselves to eat, instead resorting to making excuses for not eating.
Other less ‘obvious’ signs that someone might be struggling with Anorexia can be seen in individuals embarking on fad diets/exercise regimes. Whilst such things can be healthy for some people, taken too far they can become dangerous and lead to the development of eating disorders such as Anorexia. Indicators to ‘watch out for’ then include: the denial of entire food groups (e.g., no sugar, carbs, dairy), the consumption of only ‘healthy’ foods, and the participation in excessive exercise, even when ill or injured. Someone with an eating disorder, if interrupted in their consumption of ‘safe’/’healthy’ foods and compulsive exercise (i.e., if their extremely rigid behaviours and routines are disrupted), would likely become very anxious as a result, displaying signs of emotional distress.
As well as developing an obsession with food, individuals with Anorexia also often develop obsessions with their appearance, with this behaviour being demonstrated in their frequent ‘body checking’ in mirrors for perceived flaws. To cover up their ‘flaws’, individuals struggling with Anorexia might wear baggy clothes in an attempt to ‘hide themselves away from the world.’ They might also isolate themselves by withdrawing from social situations due to feeling ‘ashamed’ and ‘embarrassed’ about the way they look.
Emotional indicators: As well as changes in a person’s behaviour being an indicator of their struggles with an eating disorder, so too are changes to their emotions an indicator that they might be struggling.
If, combined with some of the behaviours referenced above, an individual appears to be irritable and/or ‘flat’, this is an indicator that there might be something wrong. Having frequent mood swings is also a sign that someone is struggling with their mental health. In the context of Anorexia in particular though, key emotions that people tend to experience are; an intense fear of weight gain, and a negative/distorted body image.
Perceptual indicators: Changes to one’s perception is a final indicator of Anorexia. People might believe that their self-worth is dependent on their body shape and weight. Furthermore, in some cases, people might frequently comment on how they are, or how they feel, ‘fat’, despite them having lost weight. The perception of people struggling with Anorexia is therefore quite considerably distorted.