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Signs of eating disorders should always be taken seriously. Learn the physical, psychological and behavioral warning signs of eating disorders.Eating disorders are mental illnesses that can be life-threatening and should always be taken seriously (more on What Are Eating Disorders). It is critical to know the warning signs of eating disorders so they can be assessed and the identified eating disorder can be treated as early as possible. Many of the eating disorder signs are similar for different illnesses; however, so a professional should always be consulted for an evaluation. (Note: any time eating habits become a problem, an eating disorder specialist should be consulted as they may fall into a less common type of eating disorder.)

The following information is provided as a general list; only a doctor can evaluate and diagnose an eating disorder. You do not have to have all signs of an eating disorder to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Signs of Eating Disorder: Anorexia

Physical eating disorder signs of anorexia can be very serious and should be reviewed by a doctor immediately.

They include:

  • Gradual or abrupt weight loss that can't be explained by another condition
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Irregular or no menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • Pale complexion
  • Discolored skin and nails (nails are also brittle)
  • Dull eyes
  • Hair falls out and is brittle
  • Bruise easily or are prone to injuries
  • Bruises or injuries take longer to heal
  • Dizziness or fainting spells
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Flat affect (diminishment / absence of emotional response)

Psychological eating disorders signs of anorexia may only be seen by the anorexic herself:

  • Being perfectionistic and hard on yourself
  • Always trying to please people, never saying "no"
  • Black and white thinking; everything is right or wrong with nothing in between
  • Low self-esteem
  • Attaching self-esteem to the number of calories eaten or weight
  • Depression, mood swings, irritability - especially around food
  • Feeling out of control / feeling your body is the only thing you can control
  • Disbelief in the opinions of others
  • Weight determines how you feel on any given day

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Behavioral warning signs of an eating disorder like anorexia can often by overlooked, particularly in the beginning. Behaviors include:

  • Self-isolation
  • Obsessing over calories, weight, food, etc.
  • Showing a great interest in reading recipes, cooking shows, cooking for others, etc.
  • Wearing baggy clothes (to hide weight loss or because cold)
  • Restricting calorie intake until hungry most of the time
  • Cutting food in shapes, grouping it in numbers, "playing" with food
  • Food rituals (for example, only eating off one, specific plate and only at certain times)
  • Avoiding social gatherings and outings where food is involved
  • Abusing diet / herbal / laxative pills and other medication
  • Exercising compulsively
  • Hoarding or sneaking food
  • Constantly checking weight
  • Searching through books and web pages on eating disorders looking for tips to further weight loss
  • Current or past problems with drug and alcohol addiction, stealing, and/or sexual promiscuity
  • Overly dependent on others

Bulimia Eating Disorder Signs

Physical signs of an eating disorder like bulimia can be similar to those of anorexia, but may or may not be accompanied with severe weight loss.

  • Weight shifts 5-10 pounds frequently which can't be explained by another condition
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Irregular or no menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • Pale complexion
  • Discolored skin and nails (nails are also brittle)
  • Dull eyes; eye vessels broken or have blood-shot appearance
  • Hair falls out and is brittle
  • Bruise easily or are prone to injuries
  • Bruises or injuries take longer to heal
  • Dizziness or fainting spells
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Throwing up blood, stomach aches
  • Chronic sore throats
  • Frequent headaches
  • Knuckles appearing callused and/or are scratched or bruised
  • Frequent heartburn, especially after purging
  • Swollen throat glands giving the appearance of a chipmunk
  • Retaining water
  • Hands and breath smelling of vomit

Psychological aspects of bulimia can be devastating, but these eating disorder signs can often be addressed in therapy and include:

  • Being perfectionistic and hard on yourself
  • Always trying to please people, never saying "no"
  • Black and white thinking; everything is right or wrong with nothing in between
  • Low self-esteem
  • Attaching self-esteem to the number of calories eaten or weight
  • Depression, mood swings, irritability - especially around food
  • Feeling out of control / feeling that your body and purging food are the only things you can control
  • Disbelief in the opinions of others
  • Weight determines how you feel on any given day
  • Feeling worthless after eating a certain number of calories or after gaining weight
  • Feeling like you don't belong

    Behavioral eating disorder signs in bulimia are most easily seen by the bulimic themselves.

    • Repeatedly forcing yourself to purge
    • Self-isolation
    • Obsessing over calories, weight, food, where/when you can binge/purge, etc.
    • Severely restricting calorie intake during the day and secretly bingeing at night
    • Wanting to always eat alone
    • Avoiding social gatherings and outings where food is involved
    • Abusing diet / herbal / laxative pills and other medication
    • Exercising compulsively
    • Hoarding food
    • Constantly checking weight
    • Searching through books and web pages on eating disorders looking for tips to further weight loss
    • Current or past problems with drug and alcohol addiction, stealing, and/or sexual promiscuity
    • Continually going on "diets" and sticking to diet foods until bingeing

    article references

    If you are wondering "Do I Have an Eating Disorder?," taking the Eating Attitudes Test or a shorter eating disorder quiz may provide helpful information you can share with your doctor or therapist.

    next: Eating Problems: Signs You May Have an Eating Problem
    ~ all eating disorders articles