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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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2018


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