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Eating Disorder Warning Signs

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are what Dr. Phil calls a "silent epidemic." In the beginning, girls — and boys too — may choose to restrict their diets or to purge for one reason, but they end up continuing to do so because it becomes an addiction. Early intervention is crucial because once an eating disorder gets a grip on someone, it's far more difficult to treat. There are warning signs that you do need to be looking for.

"First off, you never see them eat. You'll see them push their food around the plate, but you'll see every kind of avoidance technique you can imagine because they regard food as poison," Dr. Phil explains. "If they're acting around food as though it's toxic or poisonous, that should be a clue for you." Also, has your child been dressing in baggy clothes? "You're going to see really bulky sweaters and baggy pants to hide the weight loss and disguise the body," Dr. Phil says. "Look for extreme behaviors. Look for deception. Look for hiding."

Anorexia Warning Signs

  • Refusal to eat and denial of hunger

  • Intense fear of gaining weight

  • Negative or distorted self-image

  • Excessive exercise

  • Irritability

  • Fear of eating in public

  • Social withdrawal

  • Soft, downy hair present on the body

  • Menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation

  • Frequently being cold

Bulimia Warning Signs

  • Eating until the point of discomfort or pain, often with high-fat or sweet foods

  • Going to the bathroom after eating or during meals

  • Abnormal bowel functioning

  • Damaged teeth and gums

  • Swollen salivary glands in the cheeks

  • Sores in the throat and mouth

  • Sores, scars or calluses on the knuckles or hands

Additional Eating Disorder Warning Signs:

  • A significant change in apparent appetite

  • Excessive weight loss and an intense fear of weight gain

  • An unnatural preoccupation with food and calories

  • An obsession with clothing size, scales and mirrors

  • Routine secrecy, such as leaving the table immediately after eating to go behind closed doors

  • Avoidance of family meals or events at which food is present

  • Wearing bulky clothes to hide weight loss

  • Self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications, or fasting for days following a binge

  • Hoarding food for later binges and eating in secret

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