If You Think You Have an Eating Disorder

What Is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by irregular eating behaviors and patterns coupled with concern and distress over body shape and weight.1 People struggling with an eating disorder may use starvation, purging, or other behaviors to control their physical appearance. Although eating disorders typically develop during adolescence, anyone can develop one at any point in their life. Additionally, the stereotype that all people with eating disorders are extremely thin or frail is a misconception. There is a spectrum of different weights that people suffering from eating disorders can be. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V (DSM V) recognize four disorders as eating disorders.

DSM V Eating Disorder Categories

The DSM V recognizes the following as eating disorders:

You Are Not Alone

Hands gathered together to form a heart with red paint.

If you think you may have an eating disorder it is important to know that you are not alone. Four out of ten individuals have either struggled with an eating disorder themselves or know someone with an eating disorder.1 Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, and races. In the United States, nearly 10 million females and 1 million males are currently struggling with an eating disorder.2 It is estimated that 2.7% of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 will develop an eating disorder during their adolescence.2

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)

It is important to note that not everyone has a specific, definable eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Many people suffer from an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). EDNOS is a category of eating disorders in which the person does not completely meet all the criteria of a specific eating disorder. It is possible to experience symptoms from more than one disorder and/or experience all but one symptom of an eating disorder. For example, many patients experience the symptoms of anorexia without having a body mass index (BMI) below 15%, which is necessary to diagnose anorexia.2 Many people with eating disorders do not look frail, sickly, or skeletal. There is a wide weight spectrum for people with eating disorders, and therefore you may not be able to know if someone is suffering from an eating disorder simply based off their physical appearance.

How You Can Seek Help

A person holding another person's hand.

If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, the first and most difficult step is admitting to yourself that you have a problem. From there, it is important to reach out to someone and ask for help. Recovering from an eating disorder by yourself is extremely difficult due to underlying psychological issues. It is helpful to begin by confiding in a close friend or family member that you trust and know has your best interest in mind. Admitting that you have a problem to someone else is the first step to recovery and getting help. With the support of this person, the next step is to seek professional medical help. After a thorough evaluation, your doctor can diagnose you and give you resources and advice on the next steps you should take. They can also give you a referral to see another doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, and other healthcare professionals who are specialized in treating eating disorders. In severe or life-threatening cases, you may need to be referred to an in-patient treatment facility or even be hospitalized.

The Recovery Process

The recovery process will most likely require you to change your attitude, thoughts, behaviors, and goals so that you can lead a happy and healthy life. You must be motivated to recover and committed to it. Recovering from an eating disorder is not easy and it pushes you to address the underlying psychological that your disorder is stemming from. Part of the process includes being able to identify triggers for your abnormal eating behaviors and being able to cope with them in a new and healthy way. Support groups have also been proved to be effective in aiding in the recovery process. Having the support of your family and friends throughout this process can be very helpful in your recovery process. Educating yourself as much as possible about your disorder will also help you on the road to recovery. Reading books, researching on the internet, attending lectures, and speaking to health professionals can all help you educate yourself.. Creating a list of coping mechanisms and activities for difficult times can also be helpful. Some may include:

A woman in black tank top and black pants meditating on grass field.
  • Taking a walk
  • Taking a bubble bath
  • Making a craft
  • Writing in a diary
  • Reading a book
  • Gardening
  • Practicing yoga
  • Meditating

The journey of recovery will be a very different experience for everyone. Some patients may only take a few months to recover, whereas others may take years. It has not been shown that the quicker you seek help, the faster your road to recovery will be.  Some people are able to fully recover and some never fully recover and instead experience a series of relapses.


A relapse refers to a setback in the recovery process. Relapses are a normal part of the process for most people. Although relapses can be incredibly frustrating, you can use them to your advantage by using them to help you identify your triggers. This will help you acquire the skills necessary to help you continue on the journey of recovery. The important thing to remember during a relapse is that you have still come far from where you started and try not to let the relapse make you feel discouraged and give up on your goal of getting healthy again. Reflecting back on how far you have come can be helpful in finding the motivation to continue moving forward in the recovery process. Reading other people’s stories about recovery has also been found to be helpful in inspiring individuals to get back on track. Utilize your support system to help you get back on track and keep taking it one day at a time. Eventually you will be back on the road to recovery even farther from where you started.


If you think you may have an eating disorder or if you do have an eating disorder there are many resources available for you. Doctors can provide a variety of resources for you such as referrals, pamphlets, books, websites, and more. Other online help centers and hotlines include:4

  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline Phone Number: 1-(300)-550-236
  • ANAD Help Line Phone Number: (630)-577-1330
  • ANAD Help Line Email: anadhelp@anad.org
  • Support group finder: suportgroups@anad.org
  • NEDA Hotline: 1-(800)-931-2237
  • NEDA Crisis Text Line: text “NEDA” to 741741 to connect to a trained volunteer

Concluding Remarks

Many people around the world struggle with eating disorders every day and not everyone meets all the criteria for a DSM V eating disorder.  If you think you have an eating disorder it is important to know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you on the road to recovery.

Four persons standing on a cliff in front of a sunset.


  1. “Eating Disorders Victoria.” Eating Disorders Victoria. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
  2. “NIMH » Home.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
  3. “Eating Disorder Help – Resources for Anorexia, Bulimia & Binge Eating.”Eating Disorder Hope RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.
  4. @anadsupport. “Find Support Groups / Treatment • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.

Last Updated: 8 November 2016.