Signs of an Eating Disorder

By February 27, 2019Health Basics, Lifestyle

It is important to be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder. The earlier an eating disorder is detected, the better chance the person has for recovery. Below is a list of various warning signs. However, this isn’t a checklist. A friend or family member with an eating disorder generally won’t have all of the signs and symptoms.  

The warning signs will be different depending on the person and the eating disorder. This is just  a general overview of the types of behaviors that may indicate a problem. If you think someone you know has an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder helpline: (800) 931-2237.

warning sign eating disordersPhysical Changes that Might be Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder

  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and/or down
  • Stomach cramps
  • Other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Abnormal labs such as anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts
  • Dizziness, especially upon standing
  • Fainting/syncope
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (caused by induced vomiting)
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
  • Swelling around area of salivary glands
  • Fine hair on body, also called lanugo
  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellowish skin (in context of eating large amounts of carrots)
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functioning

Weight Concerns

  • Their primary concern seems to be about their weight, shape of their body, or their diet
  • Expresses a desire to lose weight or look different
  • Discusses food often
  • Talks about healthy or “clean” eating frequently
  • Talks constantly about their diet or what they did or didn’t eat
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance

Exercise Habits that could be Markers of an Eating Disorder

  • Person exercises a significant amount, but doesn’t increase their caloric intake
  • Obsessed with working out
  • Doesn’t take “days off” from physical activity
  • Expresses anxiety or is upset if he or she cannot exercise

Warning Signs around Food & Eating

  • Obsessed with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
  • Have new diet, including cutting out entire food groups
  • They skip meals
  • They eat small portions of food at regular meals
  • Becomes inordinately upset when unable to control a situation related to food
  • Becomes unusually interested in cooking
  • Doesn’t eat the food he or she makes
  • Eats a different meal than the rest of the household
  • Strange behaviors during or after meals
  • Makes excuses to use the bathroom after a meal
  • Seems uncomfortable eating around others
  • Doesn’t eat around anyone else or eats in private
  • Has strange rituals with food that seem abnormal (i.e. they eat only a particular food or food group, chew excessively, or don’t allow foods to touch)

Mood Changes that could be Signs of an Eating Disorder

  • Person seems more depressed, anxious, irritable or fatigued than usual
  • A note about mood, particularly with teenagers: Almost all teenagers experience mood fluctuations during adolescence. However, depression and anxiety can be a sign that is connected with eating disorders. Monitor a teen’s mental health, especially if you have concerns about their eating patterns

Energy Changes can Signify an Eating Disorder

  • Person appears to have energy and/or is less interested in the activities they used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Seems sad or down all the time
  • Or, someone has taking on too many responsibilities and/or activities and doesn’t take a break
  • Can be connected to perfectionism

What to do if you think someone has an eating disorder

If you think a friend or family members might struggle with an eating disorder, here’s what you can do:

  • Contact the National Eating Disorders helpline: (800) 931-2237
  • Don’t panic.
  • Talk to a trusted health professional, such as a physician, pediatrician or a therapist.
  • Start the conversation with the person by gently express your concerns to him or her
  • Remind them that you are always available to listen and/or talk.
  • Let them know that you love them

About Five Star ER

Five Star ER is a freestanding Emergency Room that provides excellent 24 hour care. We are located in South Austin, Pflugerville and Dripping Springs.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Moreover, of you have medical questions, seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider. Never disregard professional medical advice. Don’t delay medical treatment because of something you have read on the internet. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911, or go to your nearest ER immediately.

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