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Eating disorders: Red flags

Here are some signals of the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia.

It may be difficult to distinguish from normal dieting at first, but over time, eating disorders tend to develop telltale signs. 

In general, says the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), you should be concerned if someone's actions and attitudes show that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming main concerns, or if the person is withdrawing from friends and activities that he or she used to enjoy.

Eating disorders can also have more specific symptoms. According to NEDA, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the symptoms of anorexia can include:

  • Dieting continuously.
  • Feeling fat and fearing weight gain intensely.
  • Dwelling on calories and fat in food.
  • Refusing to eat certain foods.
  • Creating food rituals.
  • Making excuses to avoid mealtimes.
  • Cooking for others, but not eating.
  • Significant weight loss.
  • Cessation of menstrual periods.
  • Hair loss.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Growth of fine body hair.
  • Fainting.
  • Dry skin.
  • Anxiety about gaining weight.

The symptoms of bulimia can include:

  • Secretly and rapidly eating large amounts of high-calorie food.
  • Purging by self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, or fasting.
  • Using the bathroom frequently after meals.
  • Being preoccupied with food and weight.
  • Swelling in the face and neck.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Staining and decay of teeth.
  • Sore throat.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach cramps and constipation.
  • Mood swings.
  • Feelings of shame or being out of control.

If you have these symptoms, talk to your doctor or a counselor immediately. Eating disorders are harder to treat as time goes on, and they can become deadly.

If someone you care about shows these signs, encourage your loved one to get help. Be gentle, supportive and sensitive. Share that you're worried, but don't talk about body weight. Talk about health, and about how dangerous these disorders can become.

For more information on eating disorders, and how to get help for yourself or someone you love, visit the Eating disorders health topic center.

Reviewed 3/16/2022

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