What does an eating disorder look like?

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Symptoms and Treatment for Eating Disorders in Adults

"Doesn’t everyone worry about their weight?"
"Is there such a thing as too much exercise?"
"I admit some of the diets I’m on may seem extreme, but does that really mean I have an eating disorder?"

You may be asking yourself some of these questions, but chances are, if you’re here, it’s because you’ve recognized you or someone you love may have a problem and need help. Or you may be wondering what eating disorders really look like – do they affect only children and teens? Can they develop in adulthood? What about ethnic minorities?

You may be surprised by what eating disorders really look like. No particular population is immune. That includes African Americans, Asians, Latinos and other minorities. It also includes men. And males represent at least 1 out of every 10 people with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can affect mothers and fathers, even pregnant women or grandparents. Elite athletes and other individuals who appear completely healthy from the outside are also commonly affected.

Make no mistake – eating disorders are illnesses that can plague anyone, at any time throughout their lives. It can be hard to tell if someone has an eating disorder, but at least 1 out of 20 adults have exhibited key symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. And though the rate is higher in teens and children, struggles with eating and body image can be a life-long affliction for which some never receive the help they need.

Eating disorder statistics provided by the National Eating Disorder Association indicate that 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Knowing the warning signs can help you know when it’s time to seek help. Primary symptoms in adults may include:

  • Rapid weight loss, weight gain, or dramatic weight fluctuations
  • Frequent weighing of oneself; setting progressively lower and lower goal weights
  • Excessive exercise – adhering to a rigid exercise regimen despite foul weather, fatigue, illness or injury
  • Fasting, dieting, restricting or otherwise limiting food intake for a specified amount of time, followed by increased eating/binging
  • Any type of purging, including use of diuretics or laxatives
  • Increasing isolation; withdrawal from friends and activities that were once enjoyed
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety (this can be a sign of an underlying co-occurring disorder or may be a biological response to extreme low body weight)
  • Negative and self-critical comments about one’s body/weight
  • Read about additional signs and symptoms here

The Center for Eating Disorders understands the unique needs of patients of all ages, including middle-aged adults and older adults, and we offer specialized services for adults in a comfortable setting that focuses on medical, nutritional and psychological stability. Through individual, group, and family therapy with specially trained clinicians, along with collaborative care workshops and family support groups, we encourage healthy coping mechanisms to replace destructive eating behaviors. For anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder or knows someone who is, it’s very helpful to hear from other people who understand what it is like to be impacted by this illness.

Because of how serious eating disorders in adults can be, the Center for Eating Disorders provides a comprehensive continuum of care for individuals at each stage of their treatment and recovery, including:

  • 24 hour/day inpatient program
  • 12 hour/day Partial Hospital Program (PHP)
  • 4 hour/day, 4 day/week Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
  • Outpatient Program 
  • Support Groups

Whether you are an individual seeking recovery for yourself, or trying to help a family member or a friend, support is essential to your well-being. Participating in support groups and utilizing recovery-focused resources is an empowering experience that provides many benefits for those involved.

Our evidence-based programs provide you with the coping mechanisms needed to fight the disease and continue on the path to recovery, with the love and support of those most important in your life. We’ll help you to understand the biological, psychological and social aspects of eating disorders, and be better prepared to make healthy, positive changes in the future.

Call our admissions counselors at 410-938-5252 to speak with a Center for Eating Disorders expert and find out for sure if you or someone you love may be suffering from an eating disorder.

To learn more about the treatment and support at the Center for Eating Disorders, please visit the pages below:

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Contact a clinician at The Center for Eating Disorders to discuss possible symptoms, as well as our specialized treatment programs.

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Is An Eating Disorder Affecting Your Life?
See For Yourself.


We've adapted this cognitive-behavioral exercise to illustrate how an eating disorder may be impacting your life or the life of a friend or loved one. Take a few minutes to complete this eye-opening activity.

I want to begin the exercise now.

Thoughts and feelings regarding eating, food, body shape and weight can significantly impact the way people feel about themselves. In the midst of an eating disorder, these areas can become overly influential and may take up a lot of time and energy in a person’s life. Our interactive tool provides individuals and family members an opportunity to take a personalized look at these impacts.

Before you begin, consider the following questions:

  • How much do each of the following elements influence how you feel about yourself?
  • How much time do you spend thinking about or engaging in the following areas each day?
  • Answering honestly, how would you measure their value and importance to your self worth?

Now, using percentages, rate the relative importance of each of the following areas in your life, then click "Next":


This exercise is based on a therapeutic tool developed by Christopher G. Fairburn in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders (2008) and has been adapted as an online exercise for the purpose of education and self-reflection.

A Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle:

Now that you've completed your personal chart, take a look at an example of an individual who is generally healthy and does not struggle with eating or weight problems. They might have a lifestyle that looks like this, where sources of self-evaluation and life priorities are balanced and spread across a wide variety of areas. Take a look, and then click "Next" for a side-by-side comparison.


This exercise is based on a therapeutic tool developed by Christopher G. Fairburn in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders (2008) and has been adapted as an online exercise for the purpose of education and self-reflection.

These images are not a diagnostic tool but can help to shed light on the day-to-day impacts of an eating disorder. Eating disorders are progressive illnesses that affect all areas of life, gradually interfering more and more with personal commitments, priorities and overall enjoyment in life.

What do you notice about how daily life has changed since problems with eating began, or worsened, for you or a loved one? How have days shifted to accommodate or enable the illness? Even when you're engaged in normal activities, do you find yourself distracted or exhausted by thoughts of food and weight? If so, you or your family member may be suffering from an eating disorder.

This exercise is based on a therapeutic tool developed by Christopher G. Fairburn in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders (2008) and has been adapted as an online exercise for the purpose of education and self-reflection.


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