7 Warning Signs of Eating Disorders

The HealthCentral Editorial Team Apr 3rd, 2012 (updated Jul 13th, 2015)
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Constant dieting
Constant dieting

People who have an eating disorder are constantly limiting their food intake, and they may seem preoccupied with controlling the amount of calories they are eating. This is true even if the person in question is clearly already very thin. People with eating disorders may have a hard time even accepting that they are thin, which helps spur this constant dieting.

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Rapid, unexplained weight change
Rapid, unexplained weight change

Because people with eating disorders are struggling with control issues surrounding food, they may both lose and gain weight quickly and unexpectedly. And because many eating disorder sufferers go to great lengths to hide their condition, they may begin wearing baggy clothes to hide their rapid weight loss or weight gain.

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Preoccupation with body or weight
Preoccupation with body or weight

Being preoccupied with body image is at an all-time high in our culture, and with this comes a higher risk of people having a negative view of their bodies. Those with a negative body image have a distorted view of their size and shape, and they may see imperfections in their body as a sign of personal failure. It's very common for people who have eating disorders to have a negative body image and an inability to see their body as it really is.

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Going to the bathroom right after meals
Going to the bathroom right after meals

A big "red flag" that someone you know has an eating disorder is if he or she consistently visits the bathroom immediately after eating. People who do this may be purging, or emptying their stomach by vomiting. They may attempt to hide the sound by running water while in the bathroom, and they may use perfume, breath mints, or mouthwash to disguise the smell.

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Compulsive exercising
Compulsive exercising

Compulsive exercise (sometimes called anorexia athletica) occurs when people exercise not just because they want to, but because they feel guilty or anxious when they do not do it. Experts say repeatedly exercising beyond the requirements for good health, including doing so regardless of bad weather, injury, or illness, is an indicator of compulsive exercising. It is also a warning sign of an eating disorder.

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Hoarding high-calorie food
Hoarding high-calorie food

Eating disorder sufferers may appear to be eating normally in front of others, only to be hoarding food at home to eat in private. This behavior is called bingeing. Signs of bingeing include the presence of empty food wrappers or containers, cleaned out cupboards or refrigerators, and/or "stashes" of junk food or other high-calorie foods.

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Eating alone, at night, or in secret
Eating alone, at night, or in secret

People who have eating disorders have a lot of emotional and control issues around food. Many will insist on eating alone, at night, or in secret. If your friend or loved one has always "just eaten," isn't hungry when he or she goes out to eat with others, or often professes to have an upset stomach or other ailment that keeps them from eating, it could be sign of an eating disorder.