• Give a Gift
  • Customer Service
  • Promotions
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Win
  • Games

May 24, 2011

5 Signs of an Eating Disorder

Learn the symptoms and behaviors to look out for, and how to help a sick friend.

woman's back
Special Offer

Seeing women with eating disorders is part of my job. Complaints about brittle hair or the cold are signs someone might be struggling. One patient lost 50 pounds in two months. I asked her a few open-ended questions. She admitted she had a problem and got help. Here are some signs that a friend might be suffering.

A Fine Layer of Body Hair

Seriously underweight women often sprout a layer of fine hair — lanugo — to keep their bodies warm. Lack of certain vitamins and minerals can also be obvious: Hair gets finer and fingernails become weak from too little biotin; without enough iron, hair can fall out. Niacin deficiency causes pellagra, an eczema-like skin condition; lack of zinc leads to dry, cracked skin. A sallow or gray complexion can result from underconsumption of many different nutrients. Depending on the severity of the starvation, symptoms can show up within weeks.

Yellow Teeth

Anorexia is easy to spot; if a woman is extremely underweight, that's a giveaway. It's harder to tell with bulimics — they're generally average or slightly overweight.

If you suspect a friend is making herself vomit, check for yellow or cracked teeth: Stomach acid erodes the enamel. (It's also hard on the esophagus, but you can't see that.) Bulimics generally use the same two fingers on one hand to gag, and they bite down, so look for marks on the backs of their fingers. Pressure from vomiting can burst small blood vessels in the eyes. But those clear up in days, and teeth can be treated, so if your friend is purging, there may not be a sure way to tell.

Low Self-Esteem

Women with eating disorders have low self-esteem and are delusional about their looks. Exercise obsession is a clue, as is never eating out. Anorexics are private eaters, and bulimics avoid public bathrooms. Low levels of potassium, electrolytes, and sodium affect energy, and depression often crops up at the same time — look for poor eye contact, slumped shoulders, and bad hygiene or grooming. One patient wore turtlenecks all summer; another piled on layers so people couldn't see her bony frame.

Lack of Periods

It can be hard to interpret symptoms: Someone who throws up once a year might not be bulimic, but what are her feelings and thoughts about it? If a woman restricts her calories so much that she's lost her period, that's a definite sign of anorexia. If you recognize this behavior in yourself or a friend, you must get help quickly. Anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder.

Change in Appearance

Know what's normal for your friend, and speak up if her behavior or appearance shifts — old pictures are a good way to gauge changes. Say "I'm concerned about you. What's going on?" If she acknowledges a problem, there are great resources to help. Check the American Psychological Association website (apa.org) for a directory of psychologists searchable by ZIP code, or the American Psychiatric Association's site (psych.org), which has diagnostic tools.

Connect with Marie Claire:
daily giveaway
One winner will receive a year’s supply of makeup products from Lancôme ($389) and a year’s supply of hair products from Garnier Fructis ($90), as selected by the Sponsors.

One winner will receive a year’s supply of makeup products from Lancôme ($389) and a year’s supply of hair products from Garnier Fructis ($90), as selected by the Sponsors.

enter now
You Know You Want More
More From Health News and Fitness Trends
The "Angelina Effect" Doubled the Number of Breast-Cancer Gene Tests

A new study finds her BRCA-1 gene mutation inspired others to get tested.

Primary Protection: The History of the Pill

This little gal has gone through quite the journey.

The Rebel Diet

Born to eat wild? Have an on-again, off-again relationship with healthy eating? You'll love the latest weight-loss news.

post a comment

Special Offer
Link Your Marie Claire Account to Facebook

Marie Claire already has an account with this email address. Link your account to use Facebook to sign in to Marie Claire. To insure we protect your account, please fill in your password below.

Forgot Password?

Thanks for Joining

Your information has been saved and an account has been created for you giving you full access to everything marieclaire.com and Hearst Digital Media Network have to offer. To change your username and/or password or complete your profile, click here.

Your accounts are now linked

You now have full access to everything Marie Claire and Hearst Digital Media Network have to offer. To change your settings or profile, click here.