Symptoms of an Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex psychological disorders in which an individual’s eating patterns are developed and then habitually maintained in an attempt to cope with other problems in the life. Eating disorders know no class, cultural, or gender boundaries and can affect men, women, adolescents, and even children, from all walks of life.

Symptoms of Anorexia

People who have anorexia develop unusual eating habits such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating them in small amounts, weighing their food, and counting the calories of everything they eat. Also, they may exercise excessively.

Symptoms of Bulimia

People who have bulimia eat an excessive amount of food in a single episode and almost immediately make themselves vomit or use laxatives or diuretics (water pills) to get rid of the food in their bodies. This behavior often is referred to as the "binge/purge" cycle. Like people with anorexia, people with bulimia have an intense fear of gaining weight.

Most people with eating disorders share certain personality traits: low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and a fear of becoming fat. In anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, eating behaviors seem to develop as a way of handling stress and anxieties.

What are anorexia and bulimia symptoms and signs?

  1. Dramatic weight loss in a relatively short period of time.
  2. Wearing big or baggy clothes or dressing in layers to hide body shape and/or weight loss.
  3. Obsession with weight and complaining of weight problems (even if "average" weight or thin).
  4. Obsession with calories and fat content of foods.
  5. Obsession with continuous exercise.
  6. Frequent trips to the bathroom immediately following meals (sometimes accompanied with water running in the bathroom for a long period of time to hide the sound of vomiting).
  7. Visible food restriction and self-starvation.
  8. Visible bingeing and/or purging.
  9. Use or hiding use of diet pills, laxatives, ipecac syrup (can cause immediate death!) or enemas.
  10. Isolation. Fear of eating around and with others.
  11. Unusual Food rituals such as shifting the food around on the plate to look eaten; cutting food into tiny pieces; making sure the fork avoids contact with the lips (using teeth to scrap food off the fork or spoon); chewing food and spitting it out, but not swallowing; dropping food into napkin on lap to later throw away.
  12. Hiding food in strange places (closets, cabinets, suitcases, under the bed) to avoid eating (Anorexia) or to eat at a later time (Bulimia).
  13. Flushing uneaten food down the toilet (can cause sewage problems).
  14. Vague or secretive eating patterns.
  15. Keeping a "food diary" or lists that consists of food and/or behaviors (ie., purging, restricting, calories consumed, exercise, etc.)
  16. Pre-occupied thoughts of food, weight and cooking.
  17. Visiting websites that promote unhealthy ways to lose weight.
  18. Reading books about weight loss and eating disorders.
  19. Self-defeating statements after food consumption.
  20. Hair loss. Pale or "grey" appearance to the skin.
  21. Dizziness and headaches.
  22. Frequent soar throats and/or swollen glands.
  23. Low self-esteem. Feeling worthless. Often putting themselves down and complaining of being "too stupid" or "too fat" and saying they don’t matter. Need for acceptance and approval from others.
  24. Complaints of often feeling cold.
  25. Low blood pressure.
  26. Loss of menstrual cycle.
  27. Constipation or incontinence.
  28. Bruised or calluses knuckles; bloodshot or bleeding in the eyes; light bruising under the eyes and on the cheeks.
  29. Perfectionistic personality.
  30. Loss of sexual desire or promiscuous relations.
  31. Mood swings. Depression. Fatigue.
  32. Insomnia. Poor sleeping habits 

Effect of anorexia

A person with anorexia can do damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys by not eating enough. The body slows everything down as if it were starving, causing a drop in blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate. For girls, this starvation mode may mean they stop getting their periods.

Lack of energy can lead people with anorexia to feel light-headed and unable to concentrate. Anemia (lack of red blood cells) and swollen joints are common in people with anorexia, as are brittle bones. Anorexia can cause a person’s hair to fall out, fingernails to break off, and a soft hair called lanugo to grow all over the skin. In severe cases, eating disorders can lead to severe malnutrition and even death.

Effect of bulimia

People with bulimia often have constant stomach pain. In fact, bulimia can actually damage a person’s stomach and kidneys as a result of constant vomiting. Bulimia can also cause a person’s teeth to decay because of the acids that come up into the mouth while vomiting.

The person may also develop "chipmunk cheeks," which occur when the salivary glands permanently expand from throwing up so often. Like girls with anorexia, girls with bulimia may stop getting their periods. And, most dangerous of all, the constant purging can lead to a loss of the mineral potassium, which can contribute to heart problems and even death.

Anorexia and bulimia at a glance

Teens with anorexia can’t join in on snacks and meals with their friends or families, and they often don’t want to break from their intense exercise routine to have fun. Individuals with bulimia often spend a lot of mental energy on planning their next binge, spend a lot of their money on food, and hide in the bathroom for a long time after meals. 

Eating disorders are not fun. Both anorexia and bulimia can lead to feelings of guilt and depression. Some individuals with eating disorders begin using drugs or other substances to help mask their feelings, which only makes the situation worse.


National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

National Eating Disorders Association Informational and Referral Program


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