Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a very serious and sometimes fatal illness. According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15–24 years have had an eating disorder. The chance of recovery is increased the earlier an eating disorder is detected so it’s essential to get the help you need, or help your loved one get the help they need to back on the track to wellness.

Sometimes eating disorders are perceived as lifestyle choices rather than serious mental illness, it’s important to dispel yourself of this belief as it can lead to harmful consequences.

There are many different types of food and weight preoccupations, including eating disorders and Share Lawyers has compiled information on a list of common eating disorders including warning signs and symptoms for each disorder. It’s important to note that for each disorder not all the behaviours or symptoms may be experienced or displayed by each individual, but these are more general guidelines for each disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Those suffering from anorexia nervosa often see themselves as overweight, even though they are dangerously underweight, or are extremely afraid of gaining weight or becoming overweight.

Anorexia has the highest mortality of any mental disorder. For men and women affected, death is cause by complications from starvation, but suicide is much more common for women with anorexia than with most mental disorders.

Warning Signs of Anorexia

  • Extreme or dramatic weight loss
  • Constant weighing of oneself repeatedly throughout the day or at specific times. Will often weigh themselves privately and keep scale in a separate room
  • Refusing to eat certain kinds of foods (whole categories like carbs, dairy etc)  
  • Eating very small amounts of foods   
  • Constant comments about being “fat”
  • Dressing in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm
  • Denying feeling hungry
  • Developing abnormal food rituals (only eating food in certain order, excessive chewing re-arranging food on the plate)
  • Cooking meals for others without eating
  • Consistently makes excuses to avoid meals or situations involving food
  • Expressing a need to “burn off” calories
  • Has an excessive exercise routine regardless of injury or illness
  • Becoming isolated and withdraws from friends and activities
  • Is unable to admit or see they are underweight

Symptoms of Anorexia

  • Constipation, stomach cramps, or acid reflux
  • Menstrual irregularities or absence of a period  
  • Anemia, low thyroid levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, and slow heart rate
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Dry skin
  • Fine hair on body (lanugo)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functioning
  • Depression, mood swings, and anxiety
  • Lethargy or feeling tired all the time
  • Multiorgan failure

Bulimia Nervosa

Those suffering from bulimia nervosa have reoccuring and frequent instances of eating excessive or unusually large amounts of food, or binge eating, and they feel little or not control over these episodes. Feeling as though they’ve eaten too much, they compensate by forcing themselves to vomit, excessively use laxatives or diuretics, fast, participate in excessive exercising, or a combination of these behaviours. Those with bulimia are not usually underweight, but generally maintain a relatively normal weight.

Warning Signs of Bulimia

  • Excessive focus on weight or food
  • Binge eating followed by periods of starvations
  • Excessive and intense exercise regimes
  • Visiting the washroom for long periods of time after a meal
  • Obsession with weight or appearance
  • Scars or red marks on fingers or knuckles from contact with teeth when inducing vomiting with fingers
  • Tooth damage which is difficult to detect at first, but greying or ragging will occur after some time
  • Puffy face
  • Redness around the eyes from self-induced vomiting
  • Rapid weight fluctuations
  • If you live with a person with bulimia, you may notice large amounts of food disappearing
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Hidden cups in the home, people with bulimia often use cups to purge into

Symptoms of Bulimia

  • Dehydration
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Worn tooth enamel and decaying teeth
  • Acid reflux, constipation, bloating, and diarrhea  
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Electrolyte imbalance (high or low levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals) putting a person at risk for stroke or heart attack
  • Anemia
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Low sex drive
  • Pregnant women who binge and purge can experience: maternal high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, miscarriage, premature birth, breech birth, higher risk of cesarean delivery, low birth weight babies, birth defects, stillbirth, breastfeeding difficulties and postpartum depression  
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Binge Eating Disorder (Compulsive Eating Disorder)

Binge eating disorder is a mental illness characterized mainly by periods or episodes compulsive, uncontrolled, and continuous overeating where the person eats beyond the feeling of being comfortably satiated. Unlike bulimia, there is no post-binge purging, but those with binge eating disorder often partake in fasts or dieting. People with binge eating disorder often experience feelings of self-hatred or shame after they binge.

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

  • Large weight gain
  • Frequent dieting
  • Fluctuating weight gain and loss

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

  • Feelings of shame and self-loathing
  • Low self-esteem
  • Frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food
  • Feeling out of control about what is being eaten or how much
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone because of embarrassment
  • Depression, anxiety and social isolation
  • Loss of sexual desire


Orthorexia nervosa is defined as an obsession with eating foods the one considers healthy. Unlike deciding to eat healthy or avoiding certain foods, orthorexia is a unhealthy preoccupation with foods that damages one’s mental and physical health.

Warning Signs of Orthorexia

  • Compulsive checking of ingredients and nutritional labels
  • Complete elimination of a number of food groups from diet (all carbs, all sugar, all dairy etc)
  • A total inability to eat foods outside of a very narrow group of foods considered “healthy” or “pure”
  • Considerable amount of time devoted to obsessively thinking about what food might be served at events or social gatherings
  • High levels of stress or distress when “safe” or “healthy” foods are not available
  • Obsessive ideas about how diet relates to health concerns like digestive problems, mood, or asthma
  • Avoiding foods because of perceived self-diagnosed allergies without medical advice
  • Increased and obsessive consumption of supplements, herbal remedies, or probiotics
  • Acceptable food choices may be as narrow as fewer than 10 foods
  • Obsessive and irrational focus on food prep, especially washing of food or sterilization of utensils

Symptoms of Orthorexia

  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt when strict diet is not followed
  • Time taken away from other activities and spent on thinking about food
  • A sense of esteem being based solely on eating “healthy”
  • Critical thoughts about others eating habits, and social distance from those who do not eat “healthy”
  • Unable to travel too far away from home because of dietary restrictions
  • Worsening depression, panic attacks, mood swings, and general anxiety
  • Malnutrition, severe weight loss, or other medical complications

If you or your loved on is suffering from an eating disorder there is help available to you:

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