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How to Identify an Eating Disorder

by Rhea Singh

It is important to be aware of the signs of an eating disorder as early as possible so as to increase the chance of recovery. The body is generally resilient in coping with the stress of eating disordered behaviors, and laboratory tests can often appear perfect even as someone is at high risk of death, which is why it is essential to be aware of any such symptoms. Someone with an eating disorder will generally not have all of these signs and symptoms at once, and signs vary from person to person, but being able to identify common symptoms of an eating disorder can prevent it from going out of control, and can allow it to be diagnosed and treated more effectively.

General Symptoms:


- Noticeable fluctuations in weight- both an increase and a decrease

- Difficulties concentrating

- Dizziness, especially when standing

- In women, menstrual irregularities such as missing periods, or only having them when taking a hormonal contraceptive

- Poor wound healing, and compromised immune system (often falling sick, feeling weak, feeling cold)

Emotional and behavioral:

- A preoccupation with the number of calories being consumed, and dieting heavily to ensure they stay at a particular calorie count

- Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to an extent when entire categories of food are eliminated (carbohydrates and fats usually)

- Extreme concern and anxiety with body size and shape, often checking the mirror to look for and point out perceived flaws in their appearance

- Extreme mood swings

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

Anorexia Nervosa perpetuates a cycle of self-starvation and denies the body of all essential nutrients for the most basic functions. This forces the body to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy and results in serious medical consequences. Symptoms include:

- Dramatic weight loss in a short period of time

- Being considerably underweight in comparison to other people the same age and height

- Constantly feeling cold due to the lack of fat reserves to conserve body heat

- Wearing multiple layers, even in warm weather, to either hide their weight loss or just to keep warm

- Maintains an excessive and rigid exercise regime despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury

- Makes frequent comments about being overweight despite being seriously underweight, and often expressing the need to “burn off” all the calories taken in

- Seems concerned about eating in public, and often refuses to have meals with family or friends

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa:

Recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can take a toll on the digestive system as a whole, can lead to chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organs. Symptoms of bulimia include:

- Recurrent episodes of binge eating with a lack of self-control

- Purging behaviors to avoid weight gain- going to the bathroom often after meals to induce vomiting

- Uncomfortable eating in public or with family and friends

- Attempts to hide their body by wearing baggy clothes

- Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape, even if they are a normal weight, and often letting this concern impact self-esteem even in other parts of their life

- Hoards or hides food for binging, followed by purging methods to compensate for the

consumed calories

Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder:

Unlike Bulimia and Anorexia, people with binge eating disorder do not restrict their calorie intake or use purging methods to compensate for binge-eating. This often leads to health complications such as being obese or overweight, heart disease, or diabetes. Symptoms include:

- Consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time, and feel a lack of self-control to the extent where they cannot stop eating, even when they aren’t hungry

- This is often followed by feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment

- Often tries sporadic fasting or dieting. It is important to note that attempts at dieting do not exclude someone from having this disorder, as it can be used as a compensatory mechanism, and often ends up not lasting long

- Significant gain in weight as a result of binge eating


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