Eating Disorders

A person standing on a scale, weighing themselves

Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Different Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a serious illness and not a choice. If you notice the characteristics of an eating disorder pay closer attention to the person’s diet. Early diagnosis and prevention are key to treating disorders, as they can become more difficult to manage over time. Signs and symptoms can appear at any age, and may be different depending on each unique individual, and the type of eating disorder that they have.

Eating Disorders


Anorexia is one of the most visible eating disorders. Also known as anorexia nervosa, this disorder carries the classic signs of severe weight loss. People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as fat or imperfect.

People suffering from anorexia often have a very restrictive diet, and obsess over a rigid food and exercise regimen. They may experience dizziness, stomach cramping, constipation, or feel cold all the time. You may notice them wearing layers of clothing, both for warmth and to hide their weight loss.

They may have thinning hair, brittle nails, and dry skin. If your loved one is female, she may have irregularity in her menstrual flow. In some cases, her menses may stop completely.


Bulimia is characterized by binge eating and purging. Also known as bulimia nervosa, this disorder is a secretive one. Those with bulimia nervosa may binge with a large amount of food, usually within a short period of time.

They may follow their excessive eating with purging. Purging can consist of inducing vomit either manually, or with substance abuse. Laxatives may be utilized to remove the food quickly through the system.

People suffering from bulimia may excuse themselves to go to the bathroom immediately following a family meal. They may smell of vomit or use excessive mouthwash to hide the evidence. You might also find food wrappers in odd locations, like under a bed or in a drawer.

You may also notice teeth discoloration, fluid retention, or discomfort while eating around others. They may have skin peeling on their fingertips. Their stomach acid will also begin to affect the look of their skin and teeth with continual contact.

Other Specified Eating Disorders

Other Specified Eating Disorder (OSFED) stands as a diagnosis for those with disordered eating habits that do not fully meet the criteria of any diagnosable eating disorder. The prevalence of OSFED is unknown because it may not be clear that the person has an eating disorder if they do not meet the criteria of anorexia or bulimia. The causes and prevention are also difficult to track.

Pica is the eating of non-nutritional substances like chalk, paint chips, clay, metal, etc. No longer associated with pregnancy, pica can be a varied diet of substances that do not reveal a deficiency of nutrients.

Rumination disorder is when a person, typically a small child, will regurgitate the food and chew it again. Sometimes it is swallowed. It may be spat out. Rumination disorder may be confused with GERD in adults.

Muscle dysmorphia is considered the opposite of anorexia. This disorder is an obsession with being too small. Sufferers feel the need to pack on muscle, and feel as if there is never enough muscle to satisfy their compulsion. Muscle dysmorphia does not have the same mortality rates as other eating disorders.

Compulsive over eating is also known as a binge eating disorder. The sufferer may not have control over the amount of food ingested. Once they begin to eat they go far past satiety. Compulsive over eating may cause people to hoard food, eat in secret, or eat out of trash cans. The isolation of this disorder can increase depression and anxiety.


If you suspect a loved one is suffering from any of the above symptoms or signs, they may need help. If the child is a minor, then the Maudsley approach may be employed (the parents control the eating pattern of the child to regain normalcy).

In some, cognitive behavioral therapy is employed to change any distorted beliefs. It is designed to find the underlying cause of the obsession. Medications for depression, anxiety, and mood stabilizers may reduce the prevalence of the disorder. Removal of laxatives, and other substance abuse may remove the drive behind the abnormal eating habits of a restrictive food intake disorder.

Family counselling is necessary to bring any environmental issues to light. Within any successful treatment program counselling is employed to find the causes and increase the recovery rate of the patient. Counselling should be used in conjunction with other therapies to ensure the best chance of beating the disorder by providing tools to maintain a safe, healthy lifestyle.