Skip to main content UVA Health logo of UVA Health
Healthy Balance

How to Recognize Signs of an Eating Disorder

woman worried about the signs of an eating disorder
This mental health issue is important to address in order to get you or your loved one professional treatment.

Eating disorders affect millions of people in the United States. With our nation’s obsession over weight, how do you know when regular dieting or exercising turns into an abnormal relationship with food and body image? These behaviors and attitudes may indicate that someone you know has a problem. It’s important to know the warning signs of an eating disorder and get help.

Not just about weight and food, eating disorders are connected to emotions, attitudes and behaviors and can have serious psychological and physical consequences. The sooner an eating disorder is identified and treated, the easier it is for a person to recover. If left unchecked, eating disorders can cause life-long problems or can even be life-threatening.

Warning Signs of An Eating Disorder

The most common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Not everyone with an eating disorder will have the same symptoms or exhibit the same patterns of behavior, but here are a few red flags that may indicate something is wrong.

The person is:

  • Skipping meals
  • Not eating in front of other people
  • Eating very small amounts of food
  • Chewing food but spitting it out before swallowing
  • Often using an excuse not to eat
  • No longer eating foods he or she used to love
  • Only eating a few specific foods
  • Fixated on how healthy the food he or she eats is
  • Constantly talking about food, calories or weight
  • Reading food labels obsessively
  • Disappearing from the table shortly after eating
  • Gorging on food, usually when no one is watching
  • Exercising excessively
  • Intensely fearful of gaining weight
  • Worried about being fat even when he or she is not
  • Rapidly losing or gaining weight
  • Wearing baggy clothes
  • Spending a lot of time in front of a mirror, criticizing aspects of his or her body
  • Connecting body image to self-worth

Know Someone With An Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can cause serious health issues so talking to your provider about someone you love can help them start a healthy treatment option.

If you are worried about the eating behaviors or attitudes of someone you know, it’s important to express your concerns in a supportive way. Don’t place blame or try to provide simple solutions. Rather, list your concerns and encourage the person to seek professional help. Remind him or her that you are there to provide support.

Copyright 2020 © Baldwin Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Health eCooking® is a registered trademark of Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Cook eKitchen™ is a designated trademark of Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein without the express approval of Baldwin Publishing, Inc. is strictly prohibited.

Reply & View Comments Search Submit

Subscribe for Updates

Get stories & health tips every week