Eating Disorders: Symptoms

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Eating Disorders Awareness

Anorexia Nervosa: Symptoms of anorexia can be hard to notice because people with this condition can be very good at hiding their eating disorder behaviors. They may take small bites, organize their food, or “pick” at food when they eat. They often avoid eating around others to hide their behavior or because it causes anxiety.

Some of the signs of anorexia nervosa are:


  • Brittle nails
  • Constant tiredness
  • Constipation (trouble having regular and soft bowel movements)
  • Dehydration (not enough fluids in the body)
  • Dizziness
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Dry skin
  • Extreme thinness
  • Growth of lanugo (soft furry hair) on face, back, and arms
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of periods (amenorrhea)
  • Low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat
  • Orangey color to the skin
  • Paleness
  • Poor concentration
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Slow heart rate
  • Slow or stunted growth
  • Swelling of legs, feet, or ankles
  • Weak bones (that can lead to fracture and osteoporosis)


  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Denial of a problem
  • Depression
  • Distorted body image (believes their body looks different than it actual does)
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Lack of emotion
  • Low self-esteem
  • Obsession with food
  • Perfectionism
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

Bulimia Nervosa: Most of the time, you can’t really tell if someone has bulimia just by looking at them because many of the symptoms aren’t as obvious. People with bulimia can be average weight and often hide their eating habits and behaviors so friends and family won’t always notice there’s a problem.

Some of the signs of bulimia nervosa are:


  • Constipation (trouble having regular and soft bowel movements)
  • Dehydration (not enough fluids in the body)
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Electrolyte problems (not the right balance of the fluids in the body)
  • Irregular heartbeat (caused by low potassium levels)
  • Irregular periods
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen face (from extra fluid in the body or enlarged salivary glands)
  • Tooth decay/loss (cavities, loose teeth)
  • Weight fluctuations (weight loss and gain)


  • Anger that is hard to control
  • Denial of a problem
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Distorted body image (believes that their body looks different than it actually does)
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Impulsivity
  • Intense focus on “flaws” and physical appearance
  • Shame or guilt
  • Withdrawal from friends

Binge Eating Disorder: Most of the physical signs of binge eating disorder are related to overeating and the obesity that may develop. Binge eating disorder is very different from obesity, though, because the loss of control that happens in binge eating disorder can lead to significant emotional consequences.

Some of the signs of binge eating disorder are:


  • Gallbladder disease
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Insulin resistance
  • Joint pain
  • Type II Diabetes
  • Weight gain


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Shame, loneliness, and self-hatred
  • Withdrawal from friends


What happens when I don’t eat?

Your body uses food as fuel to keep all the important organs and cells in your body running well. When you don’t eat, your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs and your organs and body parts can suffer.

The Heart & Circulation: Your heart is a muscle that can shrink and weaken when you don’t eat. This can create circulation problems and an irregular heartbeat. Blood pressure can get very low during starvation and make you feel dizzy when you stand up.

The Stomach: Your stomach becomes smaller when you don’t eat so when you start eating again, your stomach is likely to feel uncomfortable (you may have stomach aches and/or gas). Also, your stomach will not empty as fast making you feel full longer.

The Intestines: Your intestines will move food slowly often resulting in constipation (trouble having a bowel movement) and/or stomach aches or cramps when you eat meals.

The Brain: Your brain, which controls the rest of your body’s functions, does not work properly without food. For example, you may have trouble thinking clearly or paying attention and/or you could also feel anxious or sad.

Body Cells: The balance of electrolytes in the blood can be changed with malnutrition or with purging. Without food, the amount of potassium and phosphorous can get dangerously low which can cause problems with your muscles, changes in your brain functioning, and cause life-threatening heart and rhythm problems.

Bones: When you don’t eat, your bones often become weak due to low calcium and low hormone levels, which increases your risk of getting broken bones now and developing weak bones when you’re older.

Body Temperature: Your body naturally lowers its temperature in times of starvation to conserve energy and protect vital organs. When this happens, there is a decrease in circulation (blood flow) to your fingers and toes which will often cause your hands and feet to feel cold and look bluish.

Skin: Your skin becomes dry when your body is not well hydrated and when it does not get enough vitamins and minerals from food. The skin will naturally protect your body during periods of starvation by developing fine, soft hair called “lanugo” that covers the skin to keep your body warm.

Hair: When your hair doesn’t get enough nourishment from the vitamins and minerals that are naturally found in healthy food, it becomes dry, thin and it can even fall out.

Nails: Your nails require nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals from your diet. When you don’t eat, you deny your body what it needs and your nails become dry and brittle and break easily.

Teeth: Your teeth need vitamin D and calcium from food sources. Without both of these minerals, you can end up with dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease. Purging can also destroy tooth enamel.