An eating disorder is more than just losing or gaining weight; it’s about the thoughts and feelings that are going on inside the person’s head. Below are some lists of the different signs that may indicate your friend or family member has an eating disorder. Please note that not everyone will display all signs and there could be some that we have missed. If, after reading this page, you think your friend or family member does have an eating disorder, it’s very important that you talk to them about it and try to get them to talk to a professional. No one is to blame for having an eating disorder but it is unlikely to go away without help from a professional.

Eating Disorders are usually very secretive and you may find that you haven’t noticed many of the signs below. Some of these signs will only be visible if you live with your friend or family member and even then, someone with an eating disorder may be very clever at hiding it from you. You may want to talk to another friend or family member and see if they’ve noticed anything. The more people that are concerned for your friend or family member, the more likely it is your friend or family member will realise they have a problem.

Behaviours around eating

Often people with eating disorders display very specific behaviours around meal times. Do they…

  • refuse to eat with others
  • feel very anxious about eating in public
  • eat different foods from everyone else
  • eat food at different times to everyone else
  • not talk much (or talk heaps) during meals
  • leave the table frequently during meals (especially to go the bathroom)
  • secretly dispose of food during the meal (wrapping it in a napkin, wiping it on the underside of plate, putting it in pockets)
  • drink an excessive amount of water (at meals, before meals or during the day)
  • lie to people about how much they have eaten

Behaviours around Food

If they are restricting their intake (not eating much) you may have noticed the following behaviours. Do they?

  • refuse to eat or only eat tiny amounts
  • say they feel full after eating only a small amount of food
  • frequently say they are not hungry
  • seem obsessed with food
  • spend lots of time looking at recipes
  • cook for others but not eat themselves
  • become very concerned and ‘worried’ about what others are eating
  • count calories or measure food quantities
  • talk about food a lot
  • only eat particular types of food or at certain times
  • claim they have a dislike of or are allergic to particular foods (e.g. red meat, carbohydrates, gluten) so they don’t have to eat them
  • only eat diet or non-fat foods
  • have difficulty choosing foods to eat
  • prefer foods of a certain colour or texture
  • compulsively arrange their food before eating it
  • cut food up into tiny pieces
  • eat with a teaspoon
  • mix their foods together before eating them
  • only eat one type of food at a time
  • add lots of condiments (salt, pepper, relish, mustard, vinegar) to their food
  • eat extremely slowly
  • eat food in a specific sequence

If they are binge eating you may have noticed the following behaviours. Do they?

  • hide food in their room or a separate cupboard
  • hide food wrappers around the house so no-one finds them
  • find it hard to explain where money in the flat account went
  • often go for walks to find, buy or steal food
  • fast or restrict food between binges

If they are purging you may have noticed the following behaviours.

Do they?

  • vomit after eating ie. go the bathroom immediately after meals
  • use laxatives, diuretics or enemas to try to lose weight
  • feel anxious if they are unable to vomit after eating

Emotions & Thoughts

Do they?

  • believe they are fat when they are not
  • wish they were thinner or a different shape
  • have black and white thinking about food. ie good food & bad food
  • have low self esteem
  • have a need for perfection
  • have periods of depression
  • become very irritable and argumentative – especially around food and meal times
  • think in extremes e.g. “if I’m not thin, I’ll be grossly obese”
  • seem very anxious around food
  • deny or minimise the seriousness of their behaviour
  • seem unhappy about their current size or body shape

Are they?

  • over-sensitive to criticism
  • extremely concerned about their appearance, both physical and behavioural
  • more anxious than in the past (especially around situations that include eating)

Physical Signs of Starvation

Have you noticed?

  • a significant weight loss (although this doesn’t always happen)
  • the hair on their head thinning or losing more than normal eg. More hair than usual in the shower after washing their hair
  • the appearance of fine raised hair on their body (lanugo)
  • their skin being pale and dry
  • their periods being irregular or have stopped all together

Physical Signs of Bingeing and Purging

Have you noticed?

  • their weight fluctuating up and down
  • their cheeks being puffy
  • their eyes being red
  • scars on their knuckles from making themselves sick (having their fingers down their throat)

Other signs

Finally you may have noticed the following signs. Do they?

  • deny being ill or underweight
  • frequently weigh themselves
  • avoid social interaction so as to avoid food
  • exercise excessively
  • get upset when things aren’t how they’d like them to be
  • wear baggy clothes
  • abuse alcohol or drugs
  • buy diet books or get them out of the library
  • seem very secretive (esp around what they have eaten)
  • have a decreased interest in sex
  • have trouble sleeping
  • have problems concentrating
  • have memory problems
  • have difficulty comprehending information
  • have difficulty making decisions
  • have difficulty with money from spending lots on food
  • shoplift food or laxatives or steal money to buy food

Please remember that there are many different types of eating disorders. Every person’s pattern and experience of an eating disorder is unique.