Because of my specialty in Eating Disorders, my family and friends are constantly telling me about the bizarre diet and exercise habits of someone. Whether it’s the person who’s at the gym constantly or the one who will only eat wheat toast, (with no butter!) for breakfast, the common question is, “Is that normal?” Let me tell you, that’s a tough question to answer. In reality, what my family member or friend usually means is, “Should I be worried that this person has an eating disorder?” Also not an easy question to answer based on one odd behavior or eating habit. An eating disorder is a culmination of several behaviors based on a central fear of fat or being fat. For example, I happen to be one of those people who doesn’t like my food to touch. Does that mean I have an eating disorder? Absolutely not! I love food too much for that, but that might be the topic for a different blog. Is it a somewhat disordered way to eat? Definitely. Does that mean you should ignore when your formerly cheeseburger loving friend suddenly becomes a vegan? No it doesnt, but it also isn’t enough to diagnose them with Anorexia. Eating disorders are complex disorders consisting of both specific thoughts combined with a myriad of behaviors on a spectrum from things we all do that might be a little weird with food to rigid rules about the method and specific food that can or cannot be eaten. Which paritally explains why the “is this normal” question is so difficult. Making a judgment on what is or is not normal based on one odd behavior is extremely difficult. A clinician uses all of the data gathered in an initial meeting that lasts about an hour to make a decision about an appropriate diagnosis – and even then it is difficult. A 5 minute description of your friend who will only eat ham sandwiches cut in the shape of stars for lunch, does not provide the level or amount of information needed to know if that is a behavior to be concerned about. Now if that friend also refuses to eat entire food groups, constantly pinches invisible fat around her waistline, and spends two hours a day exercising, my red flags start waving. So to make a long explanation a little shorter, if you are concerned about one of your friends or a family member never hesitate to contact a professional who specializes in eating disorders. And, talking to your friend or family member may help them to take the sometimes scary step of seeking help. If that family member happens to be your child, as a parent you have to right, and I might add responsibility, to find the help that child needs to move past these symptoms before they become a way of life. www.edreferral.com is a great site for finding referrals in your area. This is a site that only includes professionals who specialize in working with eating disorders.