Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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An eating disorder causes severe changes in eating habits. People with an eating disorder dwell on their food, their weight and their shape. Signs and symptoms often start in the teen or early adult years. Girls and women are especially at risk. Anyone who has a family member with an eating disorder also is at greater risk.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms is important. An eating disorder can have very serious physical and emotional effects. Early treatment is the best way to control an eating disorder and prevent complications.

Each of the three main types of eating disorders has specific signs and symptoms. Here's what to watch for.

How to Recognize Anorexia

People with anorexia severely limit the type and amount of food they eat. They see and think of themselves as overweight, even if they weigh far too little. Severe anorexia can result in starvation and death.

Signs and symptoms to look for include:

How to Recognize Bulimia

People with bulimia lose control over the amount of food they eat. They might eat large amounts of food very quickly (bingeing). After eating, they may try to compensate by vomiting, taking a laxative or by extreme exercising. The use of any of these is purging.

People with bulimia are usually normal weight. The cycles of bingeing and purging are the main signs of bulimia. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Stained teeth
  • Tooth cavities and worn enamel
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Heartburn
  • Hiding food
  • Eating in secret
  • Extreme exercise
  • Depression

How to Recognize Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating is the most common type of eating disorder. People with this eating disorder binge on food but don’t purge after eating.

Many people with this disorder become overweight or obese. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortable
  • Secret eating
  • Anxiety about eating
  • Frequent dieting
  • Feelings of guilt, shame and depression

The Bottom Line

All eating disorders are dangerous. They are not fads or eating choices that come and go. Early recognition and treatment is important. If you have signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, talk to your doctor. If a loved one or someone you know has signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, urge them to get help.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health.

  2. Anorexia Nervosa. National Eating Disorder Association.

  3. Bulimia Nervosa. National Eating Disorder Association.

  4. Binge Eating Disorder. National Eating Disorder Association.