Reducing Eating Disorder Development: Warning Signs & Prevention

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  • 0:03 Eating Disorders
  • 0:55 Warning Signs
  • 2:54 Prevention
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Eating disorders are easier to prevent than to cure. Learn how to identify warning signs in the early stages to allow for early intervention and even the prevention of common eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, in this lesson.

Eating Disorders

The environment around us is filled with warning signs. Traffic signs alert us to when it's best to stay on the sidewalk, road closed signs tell us of danger up ahead and even a growling dog acts as a warning that we need to rethink the path that we're on. But, did you know that humans also give off warning signs?

That's right, the way a person acts gives off clues as to what's going on in their life. And, if you are really in tune, these signs can alert you to the fact that a friend or loved one is heading in a potentially dangerous direction. For example, we see warning signs given off by people at risk of eating disorders, which are psychological issues characterized by a disturbance of eating behaviors. If we pay attention to early warning signs, it may be possible to prevent the disorder from developing.

Warning Signs

Although there are many forms of eating disorders, the two that are most familiar are anorexia nervosa, which we commonly associate with intentionally eating too little, and bulimia nervosa, which is commonly associated with binging and purging, meaning the person takes in a large amount of calories and then takes excessive measures to rid the body of those calories, like throwing up. These definitions are somewhat simplified, and the conditions may be complicated by other methods of losing weight, like over-exercising or using laxatives.

While eating disorders can be complex, we see that the onset of most eating disorders stems from a distorted view of one's body or an internalized feeling of pressure to perform or be more. With this understanding, we see that eating disorders are very personal struggles, which means that warning signs may remain hidden or take a keen eye to detect. Therefore, any change in attitude toward food, such as a preoccupation with food and/or calories, refusal to admit hunger or the development of eating rituals, such as excessive chewing or playing with food, should be thought of as warning signs.

Red flags should also be raised if you find a person being a bit more aloof or secretive. This could mean they start making excuses to avoid situations involving food or you notice them visiting the bathroom right after eating. Also, because a person at risk of an eating disorder may experience a building level of anxiety and need for control, you should also consider a growing level of attention about one's weight, a strict adherence to a diet, a dramatic increase in exercise or the use of weight loss aids, like laxatives, diuretics or diet pills, as warning signs.


Early recognition of these warning signs allows for early intervention, which provides the best chance of preventing an eating disorder. Prevention starts with those closest to the individual. If you fear someone you care about is at risk of developing an eating disorder, make a conscious effort to role model healthy eating habits and avoid dieting. These simple actions demonstrate a positive attitude toward food and nutrition.

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