warning signs

When a friend or family member is suffering from an eating disorder, they may not be able to directly reach out for help. If you notice even just a few of the characteristics below, the person may be struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or a combination of these. No one person will have all of these characteristics, but most people with eating disorders exhibit several. Please remember that eating disorders can occur in people of any size, race, age, or socioeconomic status.


Preoccupation with Weight and Shape

  • Frequently weighs self

  • Body checking: pinches the stomach, thighs, or arms

  • Asks for reassurance about one’s appearance, e.g.“do I look bigger to you?”

  • Has an intense fear of gaining weight

  • Looks at “thinspiration” or "fitspiration" photos or media

Preoccupation with Food

  • Becomes vegetarian or vegan

  • Cuts out certain foods or food groups

  • Has a new interest in recipes and cooking shows

  • Is inflexible about what, when, or how much to eat

  • Reads food labels, counts calories

  • Logs food intake consistently

  • Drinks lots of water and coffee

  • Chews gum to mask hunger

  • Eats abnormal food combinations

Physical Signs

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Complaints of fatigue

  • Dizziness, fainting

  • Trouble concentrating (although academic performance can still remain high)

  • Thinning hair, dry skin, brittle nails

Signs of Binge Eating

  • Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time

  • Many empty food containers/wrappers around the house or car

  • Indications of the consumption of large amounts of food

  • Eats quickly, while standing, in a manner that is out of control

  • Eats when not hungry in a response to an intense emotion

Signs of Vomiting

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom or showering after meals

  • Clogged plumbing

  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth

  • Bloodshot and/or watery eyes after using the bathroom

  • Swollen salivary glands (“chipmunk cheeks”)

  • Persistent sores in the throat and mouth

  • Sores, scars or calluses on the knuckles from self-induced vomiting

  • Scratchy or raspy voice quality

Dying on the inside

Signs of Other Purging Methods

  • Presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives and diuretics

  • Exercises to compensate for eating 

  • Exercises at all costs, despite weather, illness, injury, other commitments

Secretive Behaviors

  • Denial of hunger

  • Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes

    • e.g. “I already ate”, “I don’t feel well”

  • Hides or throws food away

  • Eats alone or in secret

  • Development of food rituals

    • e.g. excessive chewing

  • Rearranging food on a plate to make it look like one is eating

  • Conceals changes in weight by wearing baggy clothing

  • Denies there is a problem

Risk Factors

Eating disorders arise from a combination of: biological, sociocultural, and /or psychological factors.

  • Relatives with eating disorders or other mental illness: Studies have shown that having a first-degree relative (like a parent or sibling) or a distinct family history of eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and addiction increases an individual’s risk for developing an eating disorder

  • Female: Although people of any gender identification can develop an eating disorder, females have higher rates of developing an eating disorder

  • LGBTQIA+: Those who identify as non-heterosexual or not cis-gender face higher risks of eating disorders due to discrimination and body image distress

  • Athletes: Participating in sports, particularly those which emphasize appearance and leanness, such as gymnastics, dance, and running, can increase body focus and dissatisfaction which can lead to disordered eating behaviors

  • Type 1 Diabetes: Research has shown that about 25% of women diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (Insulin Dependent) will develop an eating disorder (See Diabulimia)

  • Depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mental illnesses: These often occur in tandem with eating disorders and can be the root cause of conditions like bulimia and anorexia

  • History of dieting: Having dieted or experienced weight fluctuations (yo-yo dieting) can biologically lead to eating disorders such as binge eating

  • Trauma: Both big “T” trauma (abuse, violence, or injury) and little “t” trauma (divorce, loss of a loved one, and other distressing events) can lead to the development of an eating disorder as a coping strategy