In this post I look at the common eating disorders’ signs and symptoms – Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. I also discuss Orthorexia, which isn’t a recognised eating disorder in the diagnostic manuals. However, I feel it’s worth mentioning because it can so easily be mistaken for healthy eating.
A couple of things to say before we get into the post.
Please do not use this post to diagnose yourself or anyone else with an eating disorder.
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you know, then please seek the advice of a medical or mental health professional so that they can conduct an assessment if appropriate.
Linked to the above, but it’s worth noting that, just because someone might display some of the following symptoms it doesn’t automatically mean they have an eating disorder.
There might be an underlying medical condition which hasn’t been picked up. On the flip side, just because someone doesn’t show outward symptoms it doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.
The bottom line is that eating disorders are extremely complex and individual to the person. Please seek guidance from a trained professional.
Eating disorders signs and symptoms
There may be behavioural and emotional changes which are observed when someone has an eating disorder. Some of these changes include, but are not limited to:
- A change in attitudes and behaviours which show an increase preoccupation with weight, food, calories, and dieting
- Changes in mood
- A reluctance, or refusal, to eat certain foods which may then progress into cutting out certain foods altogether
- Eating smaller portions at mealtimes, or skipping meals
- Not getting involved in activities which might involve food (e.g., going out with friends, one part of which might involve going for a meal)
- A preoccupation with body shape and size
- The person’s frequent checking of their body in the mirror and scrutinising parts of their body.
There may also be physical signs such as extreme weight loss/gain; digestive difficulties; disruption of menstrual cycle; dental problems associated with purging (e.g., discolouration/erosion of teeth); sleep disturbance; feeling cold; lowered immune system; calluses on the hands which as a result of purging.
Here are some more specific signs for the more common eating disorders:
- A dramatic loss of weight
- The person may wear a lot of layers to hide their weight loss. This might also be to help them stay warm or to hide their body shape because they do not want people noticing their body shape
- As listed above, the person may become more preoccupied with their weight, or with food and calories. They may make comments to others about “feeling fat”
- They may engage in an extreme exercise regime, even if they become injured or the weather would make such exercise more difficult.
- There may be signs that the person is binge eating, such as food disappearing, and empty wrappers in their room
- There may also be evidence of purging, such as multiple trips to the bathroom, leaving to use the bathroom quickly after meals, signs of laxative/diuretic use
- The person may have dental problems as a result of purging (e.g., discolouration/erosion of teeth);
- Excessive drinking of low/non-caloric drinks (e.g., diet sodas) or using mints to help manage appetite
- The person may have calluses on the back of their hands due to frequent purging.
Binge Eating Disorder
- There are repeated episodes of binge eating, meaning that a large amount of food is eaten within a small time period
- The person may feel a lack of control over their ability to stop eating
- Binges may be followed by the person feeling disgusted with themselves. They may also feel guilt and/or experience low mood and low self-esteem
- The person may steal food from others and keep it hidden away
- There might be evidence of binge eating, such as large amounts of food disappearing and/or large amounts of empty food containers.
- The person may cut out certain food groups (e.g., all sugars, carbs, all animal products)
- They may develop a preoccupation with healthy foods and not feel able to eat certain foods that they perceive as not being healthy
- The person may think about the food that might/might not be available if they go out to eat. There may be anxiety if there isn’t food available which fits into their criteria of healthy
- Spending a lot of time each day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
- The person may have concerns about their body size/shape, but not necessarily.
Remember to seek guidance
I hope this has been a helpful overview of the more common eating disorders signs. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re worried about yourself or someone you know then please seek advice from a qualified professional.
They will be able to carry out an appropriate assessment to see whether further support is needed. Also be aware that if you don’t agree with their opinion then you have every right to seek a second opinion from another qualified professional.