Someone with an eating disorder will show signs that can be seen but may be confusing to the observer. Eating disorders can often be non-specific when they include symptoms from a number or different illnesses. Disordered eating can take many different forms. Do not dismiss a problem just because someone does not fit within a particular label. An individual will likely show some, but not all of, the signs noted below:

Behavioural Signs

  • Fear of becoming fat
  • Talking constantly about food, dieting and/or weight
  • Describing foods as good or bad
  • Dressing in baggy or layered clothing
  • Buying, hiding, or eating food in secret
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Excessive exercising to lose weight
  • Making frequent trips to the bathroom especially right after eating
  • Gaining weight but eating little in the presence of others
  • Avoidance of social events- especially those based around meals or food
  • Significant weight gain or weight loss in a short amount of time

Psychological and Emotional Signs

  • Mood shifts (irritability, depression, shame and self-hate)
  • Feeling of inadequacy
  • Social isolation
  • Self-worth determined by what is or is not eaten
  • Eating disordered behaviours are used as a coping mechanism
  • Feeling out of control with food
  • Denial that there is any problem

Physiological Signs

  • Weight gain or fluctuations not explained by medical conditions
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Swollen glands, puffy face
  • Cracked mouth
  • Broken blood vessels in eyes and face
  • Damaged tooth enamel
  • Fatigue and muscle aches
  • Dental problems
  • Dizzy spells
  • Constipation
  • Periods irregular or stop completely
  • Insomnia
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Dry skin, hair, brittle nails and teeth
  • Irregular heartbeat or other heart-related disorders
  • Sleep Apnoea (the temporary cessation of breathing during sleep- caused by an obstruction, British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association, 2016)

Comorbid Mental Health

A lot of individuals who struggle with an eating disorder may have what is known as a comorbidity. This means that alongside their eating disorder they may struggle with other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, personality disorder, etc.