Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Symptoms of eating disorders

2-minute read

It is not always easy to tell if someone has an eating disorder, since they may try to hide their problem because of shame or guilt.

They may also want to continue their behaviour, because it is their way of coping or feeling in control. But there may be signs to suggest they have a problem. People who are seriously underweight may be suffering from anorexia nervosa.

Some of the behaviours that a person with an eating disorder may display include:

  • Dieting: this could mean calorie counting, fasting, skipping meals, avoiding certain food groups or having obsessive rituals related to eating.
  • Binge eating: evidence may include hoarding of food or the disappearance of large amounts of food from the kitchen.
  • Purging: vomiting or using laxatives to rid the body of food. People who purge often make trips to the bathroom during or after eating.
  • Excessive exercise: someone may refuse to interrupt exercise for any reason, insist on doing a certain number of repetitive exercises or become distressed if unable to exercise.
  • Social withdrawal: the person may avoid social events and situations that involve eating or wants to eat alone.
  • Body image: strong focus on body shape and weight.
  • Change in clothing style: such as wearing baggy clothes.

There are also physical signs that a person may have an eating disorder, which may include:

  • Weight changes: fluctuations in weight or rapid weight loss.
  • Disturbed menstrual cycle: loss of or disrupted periods.
  • Dizziness: feeling light-headed or faint.
  • Fatigue: constantly feeling tired.
  • Being cold: sensitivity to cold weather.
  • Disrupted thinking: inability to concentrate or think rationally.

There is also a lot going on inside the head of someone with an eating disorder. Some of the psychological signs include:

  • Obsession with weight: preoccupation with weight, body appearance or food.
  • Low self-esteem: feelings of low self-worth or negative body image.
  • Negative emotions: anxiety, depression and feeling that life is out of control.
  • Meal time anxiety: feeling anxious, upset or guilty in relation to food.
  • Mood changes: depression or anxiety, moodiness or irritability.

If you or someone you know has the symptoms of an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help. Eating disorders are damaging to the body and can even be fatal. Early intervention offers the best chances of a successful recovery.

Where to get help

Eating disorders are treatable. Visiting a doctor is the first step to recovery.

You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.

Call Eating Disorders Victoria on 1300 550 236 or (03) 9417 6598 if you are interstate.

Last reviewed: February 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Warning signs & symptoms

It is important to know the warning signs of an eating disorder. These may indicate that an eating disorder is developing or is being experienced in full. Below are lists of behavioural, physical and psychological signs or changes which often accompany an eating disorder. If you or somebody you know is experiencing several of the following symptoms, it is important to seek help immediately to determine if you/they have a problem. Early intervention is vital in promoting recovery.

Read more on Eating Disorders Victoria website

Eating Disorders Explained - EDNOS

A person with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) may present with many of the symptoms of other eating disorders

Read more on NEDC - National Eating Disorders Collaboration website

What is binge eating disorder? Eating disorders explained

Binge Eating Disorder is a serious mental illness characterised by regular episodes of binge eating.

Read more on NEDC - National Eating Disorders Collaboration website

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS)

What is EDNOS? A person with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) may present with many of the symptoms of other eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa but will not meet the full criteria for diagnosis of these disorders.

Read more on NEDC - National Eating Disorders Collaboration website

Eating disorders | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Eating disorders share symptoms such as a distorted view of body shape and weight, and extreme disturbances in eating behaviour. Read about Garvan's research and understanding of these disorders.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Treatments for eating disorders | Eating disorders | ReachOut Australia

There are a number of different types of eating disorder treatments, as well as different health professionals you can talk to about them.

Read more on website

Eating disorders, anxiety and depression

Having an eating disorder is neither a lifestyle choice, a ‘diet gone wrong’, nor an attempt to get attention. A person with an eating disorder has a mental health condition.

Read more on beyondblue website

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are a mental illness. The most common types are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other binge eating disorders. They can affect women and men of all age groups, from a range of backgrounds and cultures. Many people might be living with these disorders without being diagnosed.

Read more on WA Health website

Eating disorders, anxiety & depression

Studies show that a high percentage of people with an eating disorder will experience increased levels of anxiety and depression. It isn't clear if depression and anxiety are the result of an eating disorder or a risk factor in the development of one - the truth could be a mixture of the two. Eating disorders and anxiety/depression have some common risk factors.

Read more on Eating Disorders Victoria website

For people with an eating disorder

Perhaps someone has approached you with the suggestion that you may have an eating disorder, or perhaps you suspect it yourself.

Read more on Eating Disorders Victoria website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo