Food Obsession

When food and weight control are all you think about.

In the beginning it’s easy to hide. It’s done in secret, so no one knows your struggle. You barely eat, making the excuse you’re not hungry; you quietly head to the bathroom after a big meal and purge yourself; or when you’re alone you can’t stop eating.

Whether you suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety issues, depression, or just want control over something in your life, an eating disorder often begins small and seems harmless.

Unfortunately, it can easily lead to serious psychological and medical problems.

Teenage girls and young women are most susceptible to developing an unhealthy preoccupation with food, but it can plague anyone. The three most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Because it is common, it’s important for parents, teachers, and friends of all ages to know the signs and symptoms of eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

How many calories are in that bite? How long can I go without eating? Why aren’t I as thin as that girl on TV? These are things people with anorexia obsess about. The dread of weight gain leads these individuals to eat as little as possible, exercise all the time, use laxatives, or induce vomiting. As their efforts pay off through weight loss, they become motivated to continue their obsession.

An anorexic person may seem irritable or not show any emotions, avoid eating around other people, seclude herself from social activities, lose weight, and have trouble sleeping. A lack of food may also cause soft hair to grow on the body, constipation, abdominal pain, menstrual irregularities, dry skin, dehydration, memory loss, or heart problems. If not treated, anorexia can be exceptionally dangerous, even life-threatening.

I am forever engaged in a silent battle in my head over whether or not to lift the fork to my mouth, and when I talk myself into doing so, I taste only shame. I have an eating disorder. – Jena Morrow, author

Bulimia Nervosa

Whereas someone with anorexia seeks control over food, a person with bulimia feels out of control when it comes to food and binges. She then feels guilty and seeks control by purging through self-induced vomiting, using laxatives, excessive exercise, or fasting. Bulimics also fear weight gain and believe themselves to be fat even when at a normal, healthy weight.

Those with bulimia are often good at hiding it, but look for there are some telltale signs. Someone who binges may leave behind an unusual amount of food wrappers or empty containers. A person who purges may head to the bathroom after each meal; chew gum or use mouthwash frequently for fresh breath; and have damaged teeth, gums, salivary glands, or scarred knuckles. Dehydration, menstrual irregularities, and bowel problems are common. Untreated, long-term health problems will develop with this condition.

Binge Eating

Compared to the other two disorders, someone who binges has lost control when it comes to food. After overeating, nothing is done to compensate for the extra calories. Rather, the guilt from binging drives the binge eater to eat more, creating a horrible cycle. Many people who engage in binge eating are overweight or obese and develop health problems associated with weight gain.

During a binging episode, the binger eats until he or she is uncomfortably stuffed or even in pain. The food is consumed in a short period of time and usually in private. Binge eaters feel a loss of control and later feels guilty, depressed, or ashamed over what they’ve done. Hoarding of food is common.

The Next Step

Recognizing symptoms of an eating disorder is the first step in the right direction. But you can’t overcome an eating disorder on your own. Professional help is required. A combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants and the support of loved ones are the most effective ways to treat an eating disorder and regain a healthy relationship to food.



Allan Alguire

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