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Signs & Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are complex and involve biological, psychological, and social components. They can begin with an individual's well-intended attempt to become healthier, to "eat right and exercise" for example. A young person may create a complex life style, schedule or rituals, to support the disorder such as, making excuses not to eat, or making time for exercise, or binge and purge episodes.

Remember: The symptoms of an eating disorder may resemble other medical problems or psychiatric conditions so it is important to always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Socially the person may become withdrawn from family and even friends. Families who are dealing with an eating disorder often describe "losing" their child to the disorder or they envision the disorder as some entity that has taken over the person.

Physical Signs

  • Rapid or excessive weight loss
  • Dramatic weight gain or bloating
  • Wasting of the body and muscle mass (Shown)
  • Development of fine facial and body hair called lanugo (Shown)

Wasting Muscle and Lanugo

  • Feeling tired, cold and weak
  • Lack of energy; lethargy
  • Cold and blue hands and feet
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Swollen or enlarged salivary glands (Shown)

Enlarged Salivary Glands

  • Slow heart rate
  • In females; absent or irregular menstruation
  • Dry skin and hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Dental enamel erosion
  • Knuckle calluses

Internal Thinking and External Behavior

Photo of Female Peeking Through Hands

Internal thinking...

  • A fixed, firmly held belief of "being fat"
  • Denial of having an eating disorder
  • Fear of not being able to stop eating
  • Awareness that eating pattern is abnormal
  • Depressed moods and self-deprecating thoughts
  • Self-worth appears to be determined by weight or shape
  • Obsessing about body image or how clothing fits, asking “do I look fat in this?”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Obsessiveness

External Behavior...

  • Insufficient energy intake
  • Binge eating; eating large amounts of food in a brief time period
  • Temporary relief via avoidance of weight gain by; fasting, self-induced vomiting, excessive urination, exercise
  • Obsession to be thinner which does not diminish with weight loss
  • Hoarding, hiding or discarding food; discarded wrappers and food containers
  • Intense preoccupation with food, weight loss, and control of food such as: counting calories or grams of fat, dieting, insufficient energy intake, taking laxatives or diuretics (wrappers in the trash)
  • Food rituals such as: obsessive weighing and measuring food, eating foods in a specific order, eating only from a specific container, plate, bowl or glass, re-arranging food or cutting it into small pieces, eating only at specified times
  • Refusal to eat certain “unhealthy” foods
  • Consistent excuses to avoid eating food at meal times
  • Denial of hunger. “I’m not hungry”
  • Frequent comments about feeling fat, despite apparent weight loss
  • Exercise: compulsive, rigid or excessive exercise routines, despite illness, fatigue, or injury
  • Withdrawal from friends and social situations that your child or friend used to enjoy
  • Eating privately or in their room so that no one sees what they’re actually consuming