National Eating Disorders Association

The chance for recovery increases the earlier an eating disorder is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of an eating disorder. 

An individual with anorexia generally won’t have all of these signs and symptoms at once, and warning signs and symptoms vary across eating disorders, so this isn’t intended as a checklist. Rather, it is intended as a general overview of the types of behaviors that may indicate an eating disorder. If you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one, please seek additional medical help.

Emotional and behavioral signs of anorexia nervosa

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Dresses in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm
  • Is preoccupied with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refuses to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Makes frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss
  • Complains of constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, lethargy, and/or excess energy
  • Denies feeling hungry
  • Develops food rituals (e.g., eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate)
  • Cooks meals for others without eating
  • Consistently makes excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food
  • Expresses a need to “burn off” calories taken in 
  • Maintains an excessive, rigid exercise regimen – despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury 
  • Withdraws from usual friends and activities and becomes more isolated, withdrawn, and secretive
  • Seems concerned about eating in public
  • Has limited social spontaneity
  • Resists or is unable to maintain a body weight appropriate for their age, height, and build
  • Has intense fear of weight gain or being “fat,” even though underweight
  • Has disturbed experience of body weight or shape, undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight
  • Postpuberty female loses menstrual period
  • Feels ineffective
  • Has strong need for control
  • Shows inflexible thinking
  • Has overly restrained initiative and emotional expression

Physical signs of anorexia nervosa

  • Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
  • Menstrual irregularities—amenorrhea, irregular periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting/syncope
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Sleep problems
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Dry skin
  • Dry and brittle nails
  • Swelling around area of salivary glands
  • Fine hair on body (lanugo)
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair (lanugo)
  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellow skin (in context of eating large amounts of carrots)
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functioning

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