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How to recognize an eating disorder

(NC) Preparing and eating food is life sustaining and often celebratory. For many of us however, these everyday actions can be filled with confusion, guilt and anxiety.

An eating disorder can be deadly – and it is also hard to detect.

“Knowing what is healthy eating is difficult, given how much contradictory information is in so-called health and lifestyle magazines and websites. So often their covers are about the best ways to look good or lose weight. I'm not sure where the health bit comes in there,” says Melanie Smidt, a competitive cyclist who also juggles family responsibilities with work as a personal assistant at a busy law firm.

Merryl Bear, director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, agrees. “Healthy, normal eating patterns are difficult to sustain when food choices are a source of judgment,” she says. Many individuals believe the marketing mantra that eating healthily will automatically ensure that they will have thinner bodies, and will thus be socially successful.

Eating disorders, however, are more than about what one eats or does not eat, Bear reminds us. Poor body image and low self esteem, combined with perfectionism and an over inflated valuation of appearance can combine with difficulties in problem solving which are then displaced onto food and weight. “When complicated attitudes intrude daily into decisions about food, and concerns about weight make it hard to enjoy life at school, work or leisure, there's a problem.”

“But you're not alone, and you don't have to suffer in silence. Lots of men and women call us to help them sort out whether they should be worried or not. Sometimes it's about themselves, but often they call about a friend, partner or a family member,” says NEDIC helpline staffer, Susan Main. “It helps them determine next steps for themselves or their loved ones.”

A toll-free national helpline is available at 1-866-633-4220, Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, or online at

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