Symptoms of Eating Disorders

by Catherine Rein
(last updated April 22, 2009)

In college I had a number of friends who suffered from stress and the life changes of living independently for the first time. Some of these friends sadly developed eating disorders that affected them for many years. I wish I'd known then more about the signs of eating disorders and treatment options to help them. If you suspect a loved one suffers from an eating disorder, look for the following symptoms:

  • Starvation. Starvation can have many faces. Anorexia, the medical name for self-starvation can include a great number of variations. It includes an obsession with food, counting calories and excessive exercise. You or your loved one might be suffering from anorexia if a restricted diet is causing hair loss, pale or "grey" skin, dizziness and/or headaches. An anorexia sufferer is pre-occupied with thoughts of food, weight and cooking. They may also suffer from mood swings, depression and fatigue.
  • You might notice that a friend with anorexia skips meals, weighs themselves or their food frequently or makes excuses for not eating.
  • Bingeing. Bingeing (and associated purging) are signs of Bulimia. This eating disorder is where the person affected eats a lot of food in a short amount of time and then tries to purge the food to get rid of it. They may have a dramatic weight loss is a short amount of time, have visible frequent trips to the bathroom and hide food in strange places such as under the bed or in closets.
  • You might notice a binge sufferer by their unhealthy focus on body shape and weight and excessive exercise.
  • Other Symptoms. Other symptoms that may indicate an eating disorder include loss of menstrual cycle (for women), bruised or callused knuckles, bloodshot eyes or light bruising under the eyes and on the cheeks. Compulsive overeating disorder might also include excessive weight gain as a symptom and the physical ailments that accompany weight gain such as excessive sweating and shortness of breath. Rapid weight gain also leads to high blood pressure and could include leg or joint pain.

Self-defeating thoughts are another symptom of eating disorders. You should be on the look out for negative feelings of worthlessness or not being perfect as these can be signs of eating disorders. Eating disorders are diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. If an eating disorder is left untreated it can cause death, heart disease, stunted growth and many other life long illnesses.

You should take any eating disorder seriously and help friends or family members that might be affected get the help of trained professionals.


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