Eating Disorders Symptoms

Would you notice eating disorders symptoms in someone you love? Would you be able to recognize the development of an eating disorder in yourself? Unfortunately, some signs of eating disorders are not very obvious and you may not recognize them if you don’t know what to look for. Furthermore, eating disorders can look many different ways in different people, and can change over time, even in the same person. While people with eating disorders typically experience a number of symptoms; they might not have all the possible symptoms. However, individuals with even a few symptoms of an eating disorder can experience a significant amount of distress. Given the seriousness of eating disorders, it’s a good idea for someone to be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional if they are experiencing distress related to their body image, self-esteem, or eating patterns, or if they are experiencing several of the eating disorder symptoms listed here.

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Restriction of food intake (dieting, fasting) resulting in significant weight loss
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, body dissatisfaction
  • Placing high value on body weight or shape when evaluating self-worth
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting (after a binge or after eating a small amount of food)
  • Use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas to control weight
  • Excessive exercise
  • Belief that one is overweight or “fat” despite thinness
  • Guilt or shame related to food intake
  • Frequent weighing
  • Frequent measuring of body parts
  • Frequent checking of perceived “fat” areas using a mirror
  • Denial of health consequences of the seriousness of weight loss/lack of nutrition
  • Delayed menarche (first menstrual period), amenorrhea (loss of menstruation), or irregular menstruation
  • Depressed mood
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Excess energy
  • Cold intolerance (always being cold)
  • Muscle weakness or wasting
  • Fainting spells and dizziness
  • Pale complexion (almost a pasty look)
  • Headaches
  • Pre-occupation or obsession with food, calories, recipes
  • Excuses for not eating meals (ie. ate earlier, not feeling well)
  • Unusual eating habits (ie. cutting food into tiny pieces, picking at food)
  • Noticeable discomfort around food
  • Avoidance of social situations involving food or difficulty eating in public
  • Cooking for others, but not eating themselves
  • Very secretive about eating patterns
  • No known medical condition that would better explain weight loss
  • Weight loss or failure to make expected weight gains in a growing child
  • Lack of insight or not believing that one truly has a problem

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating (eating a large amount of food in a certain period of time and feeling as though one cannot stop eating or control the content or amount of food they are eating)
  • Recurrent behaviors to prevent weight gain (self-induced vomiting, laxative, diuretic, or other medication misuse, fasting, excessive exercise)
  • Placing high value on body weight or shape when evaluating self-worth, body dissatisfaction
  • Shame related to eating patterns
  • Attempts to cover up eating patterns (binging alone, in secret)
  • Episodes of restriction, dieting, or fasting in between binges
  • Selecting diet or low calorie foods between binge episodes
  • Weight fluctuations (usually with 10-15 lb range)
  • Menstrual irregularity, amenorrhea (lack of menstruation)
  • Swollen glands
  • Broken blood vessels
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Fear of not being able to stop eating voluntarily
  • Avoidance of foods that may trigger a binge
  • Self-deprecating thoughts following binging, with brief relief following purging
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tooth decay
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Avoidance of social situations involving food

Binge Eating Disorder

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating: Eating a large amount of food in a certain period of time and feeling as though one cannot stop eating or control the content or amount of food they are eating
  • Binging that includes eating rapidly, eating until uncomfortably full, eating a lot of food when not hungry, eating alone, feeling guilt, embarrassment, shame, disgust, or depressed mood afterward
  • No use of strategies to control weight gain after a binge such as vomiting or excessive exercise
  • Binge eating alone
  • Trying to conceal binge episodes
  • Weight gain
  • Yo-yo dieting

Here is more on the Gastrointestinal (GI) Symptoms Commonly Seen With Eating Disorders.

Related Issues

Having an eating disorder is associated with other serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, alcohol and/or substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts. These mental health symptoms sometimes precede the onset of an eating disorder, and, for some, develop in part as a result of the eating disorder.

Compulsive eating and emotional eating are patterns of eating that are commonly associated with eating disorders, especially bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Although compulsive eating and emotional eating are not specific diagnoses, they can result in distress and may warrant evaluation by a qualified mental health professional (read more about compulsive eating and emotional eating).

If you notice some of these signs of eating disorders in a loved one, encourage him or her to be evaluated by a professional. Only a qualified professional can determine if someone really has an eating disorder and if so, what kind of treatment would be most beneficial.


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Additional Reading:

Eating Disorders and Sexuality
Eating Disorders and Suicide
Your Doctor’s Role in Eating Disorders Treatment

About The Author:

This article was written by Dr. Elisha Carcieri, a licensed clinical psychologist.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. bookpointUS.

Written – 2015