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Signs of Disordered Eating in Young Adults, Young Woman Looks Contemplative

7 Signs of Disordered Eating (and How to Seek Help)

Est. reading time: 4 mins
Posted Under: Insights, Treatment Insights

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


Eating disorders are complex conditions that are often minimized in media and society through myths like “people with eating disorders just want to be thin.” In reality, eating disorders are mental health diagnoses and do not discriminate towards body size, race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. And cases of eating disorders are on the rise: new research shows that “rates of the ED visits that led to hospital admissions were stable before the pandemic but increased from 22% to 149% during the pandemic. 

We spoke to The Dorm’s registered dietitians and clinical therapists who identified 7 shared common warning signs they look out for when assessing if someone might be struggling with their relationship with food. If you or a loved one need support, you can reach our team here.

  1. Obsessive thoughts about food, eating, or weight
    Intrusive, obsessive thoughts and behaviors that interfere with daily life, such as: engaging in diets, counting calories, body checking, micro-biting at meals, compulsive exercise, and avoiding social outings that involve food.
  2. Struggling to eat in front of others
    People with all forms of eating disorders experience high levels of anxiety or feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment eating in front of others: feeling as though others will judge them for what or how much they eat. This could result in binging after the meal or only eating in private. Please note that anxiety around eating in public can start in adolescence such as in school cafeterias or social events, so it’s important not to write off these behaviors.
  3. Developing rigid rituals or rules around eating
    Shame, anxiety, guilt, or obsessive feelings around food can lead to strict, self-imposed rules such as: eating foods in a certain order, cutting foods into small pieces, excessive use of condiments to make food less appetizing, or not eating certain foods entirely.
  4. Body dissatisfaction that interferes with daily activities
    If insecurities or discomfort with one’s weight or shape are so persistent that they interfere with everyday activities and enjoyment, it’s a strong red flag of disordered eating. Individuals may wear baggy clothes, engage in disordered behaviors to manipulate body size, body check in mirrors, often weigh themselves, and avoid social activities due to feeling shame around their body.
  5. Eliminating food groups or experimenting with diets
    Changes in diet, such as cutting down on sugar or trying new foods, can be healthy in a lot of circumstances, but drastic changes in diet may point to a problematic relationship with food. For example, people with eating disorders may become obsessive with new diet trends or dietary restrictions (i.e. “all carbs are bad”). If someone is constantly basing their diet on external trends and not their own nutritional needs, it is worth seeking help.
  6. Exercise as an antidote or “reward” for eating
    Another symptom of an eating disorder is not in what they consume, but in how they exercise. Obsessive thought patterns, shame, and guilt around what or how much they’ve eaten can cause someone to exercise excessively or purge as a form of punishment, or only eat as a “reward” for exercising.
  7. Other unexplained physical symptoms
    Some warning signs of disordered eating are not related to behavior or symptoms, but instead manifest as physical symptoms. People may experience chronic stomach issues, feeling cold all of the time, or frequent gastrointestinal symptoms may link to a lack of proper nutrition.

Seeking Support for Disordered Eating

Realizing you or a loved one are experiencing an eating disorder can be overwhelming. Please know that you are not alone, and that there are many options for support. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is an excellent resource where you can learn more about the disorders or connect with professionals and peer support groups. 

Forms of treatment for an eating disorder may include DBT, CBT, ACT, body image groups, meal support, and individual nutrition needs. For others who may have other mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or ADHD, support and coaching around life skills, social skills, or communication may also be beneficial. 

Here at The Dorm in DC and NYC, we treat young adults who may be struggling with an eating disorder through an evidence-based, holistic approach that encompasses nutritional support and education, one-on-one therapy, group therapy, family coaching, as well as alternative approaches such as exercise, yoga, reiki, community service, and meditation. We strongly align with the intuitive eating philosophy, a mindfulness-based approach that is shown to be associated with: fewer eating disorder symptoms, body shape concerns, and greater spiritual well-being. In addition, the Dorm also incorporates Health at Every size, which has been shown to promote sustained, long-term physical and mental health improvements

You Might be Wondering: How Do I Know If I Have an Eating Disorder? 

Our goal is to support clients who are working towards healing their relationship with food and movement, being in touch with their body’s hunger and fullness cues, and removing the shame that can accompany food and behaviors. If you have any questions or are wondering if you might be struggling with an eating disorder, it’s best to speak to a licensed professional. Please feel free to call or email us to speak to our team.

Learn more about our young adult eating disorder treatment services.


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