Common Symptoms of Eating Disorders 


Eating disorders are a significant problem across the globe. Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and in the journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry say eating disorders affect roughly nine percent of the population worldwide. Fortunately, eating disorders are treatable.

Chances for recovery from eating disorders increase the earlier a disorder is detected, which is why knowing how to spot symptoms is important. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) breaks symptoms down into two categories: emotional/behavioral and physical. However, NEDA warns that signs vary and some symptoms may not fit neatly into either category. Also, people with eating disorders generally do not have all of these symptoms at once. 

Emotional and behavioral symptoms of eating disorders are generally behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food have become a primary concern. 

  • A preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods which may progress to restrictions against whole categories of foods, such as carbohydrates or adherence to certain food rituals, such as chewing excessively or refusing to allow foods to touch one another
  • Showing discomfort eating around others
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
  • New practices with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities and extreme mood swings
  • Frequent dieting
  • Extreme concern with body size and shape, and frequent checking in mirror for perceived flaws in appearance

Physical symptoms of eating disorders can be hard for loved ones to recognize, such as fluctuations in weight. Someone with an eating disorder may begin wearing clothing to cover up such fluctuations, making it important that loved ones learn to recognize the subtle symptoms of eating disorders. 

  • Stomach cramps or other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Difficulties concentrating and sleeping
  • Abnormal laboratory findings such as anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, or low white and red blood cell counts
  • Dizziness, especially upon standing, and fainting spells caused by a fall in blood pressure
  • Feeling cold all the time including cold, mottled hands and feet, or swelling of feet
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints due to inducing vomiting (bulimia)
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity, and swelling around area of salivary glands as well as cavities or discoloration of teeth
  • Dry skin, hair, and brittle nails and fine hair on body
  • Muscle weakness, wounds that heal poorly, and impaired immune function
  • Yellow skin (due to eating large amounts of carrots)

Eating disorders affect people from all walks of life. Learning to recognize the symptoms can be an important first step toward seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one. For a list of eating disorders resources visit, or call 1-800-700-4573.