Warning signs of an eating disorder

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It is estimated that about 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Several risk factors for eating disorders have been identified, including sex, as the majority of people with eating disorders are female.

Family or personal history of depression and/or eating disorders are also risk factors.

Participation in aesthetic sports and activities such as gymnastics, dance or modeling can also increase an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder.

The most common age of onset is adolescence or young adulthood.

Typical characteristics of individuals with eating disorders are perfectionism, high achievement, and drive to succeed.

Warning signs of an eating disorder include:

• Skipping meals
• Taking only tiny portions and eating very slowly
• Refusal to eat socially
• Eating in ritualistic ways
• Strange food combinations
• Food-preoccupation; including obsession with recipes, shopping, cooking
• Frequent excuses to not eat, such as not feeling well, already ate, too full, etc.

Classic symptoms of starvation include depression, irritability, insomnia, headaches, constipation, poor concentration and problems with short-term memory.

If someone you know is showing signs of an eating disorder, it is important to encourage them to discuss their condition with their doctor, as early treatment is key.

Cone Health has an exceptional network of behavioral health specialists, dieticians, primary care physicians and other related healthcare providers that are dedicated to providing proper treatment to individuals in the community dealing with body image issues and eating disorders.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Jeannie Sykes is a registered dietitian at Cone Health Family Medicine Center.

She received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Vermont in 1976, and a Masters of Public Health Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980.

Dr. Sykes earned a PhD in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1986.

She has worked at Cone Health Family Medicine Center since 1990.


  • Concerned Mom

    My daughter suffers from bullimia. She would hurry from the dinner table to the shower, or so I thought. She was throwing up and showering while I was in the kitchen cleaning up and couldn’t hear anything happening in the bathroom. At the same time, she began running at school. I could see she was losing weight, but it seemed like a good thing since she was too heavy for her height. At some point I inquired about her goal weight when I could see her getting really thin. Friends became inquisitive too. Eventually the throwing-up became something she couldn’t control and she talked to her youth counselor at church, who came with her to tell me. We got her to a doctor and counseling and she stopped, but lately we have seen signs of it again. She passed out from dehydration and her potassium was so low it took a long time to get it back to normal in the emergency room. Problem is, she is now an adult and not so easily persuaded to get help this time around.

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