Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Health Writer

There are two main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Some experts have suggested a third type should be binge eating, but this has not been approved as a psychiatric diagnosis.

People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight. They may have an intense fear of gaining weight or being fat. People suffering from anorexia often complete rituals around meals. They may choose one or two foods and eat only very small portions of those foods or they may avoid certain foods or avoid meals altogether. They may be extremely skinny but feel overweight.

Bulimia nervosa includes periods of binge eating followed by purging of food by methods such as self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting or excessive exercise. People suffering from bulimia nervosa judge themselves by how their body looks.

Both of these eating disorders have a number of medical complications including heart disease and kidney failure, which can cause serious illness and even death.

It is important, therefore, to recognize eating disorders early and to help those suffering from them seek treatment.

Some signs of all eating disorders:

  • Secret vomiting or use of laxatives or diet pills.
  • Mood changes, feelings of depression, low self-worth or guilt.
  • Intense fear of being fat, preoccupation with their weight or how their body looks.
  • Weighing themselves often and repeatedly.

In addition, there are some signs for specific eating disorders:

Anorexia nervosa

  • Prepares food for others but will not eat.
  • Severe dieting, eating very small portions or limiting food intake to one type of food.
  • Exercising compulsively.
  • Feeling cold.
  • Difficulty paying attention or making decisions.
  • Avoiding meals.

Bulimia nervosa

  • Weight fluctuation
  • Eating large amounts of food in short periods of time
  • Hoarding food
  • Using bathroom after meals
  • Chest pain, muscle pain, dizziness, headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • Discolored teeth

If you know someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder, suggest they talk to someone about a possible eating disorder.


Eating Disorders, 2001, National Institute of Mental Health