Signs & Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia can be difficult to identify. If you’re concerned you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, this page outlines the warning signs and symptoms of this disorder.

Warning Signs of Anorexia

If you think that a loved one may be suffering from anorexia, it is important that you try to recognize key warning signs of anorexia in order to help that person receive treatment as soon as possible. Anorexia nervosa is an extremely dangerous and potentially life threatening disorder that can also lead to other dangerous conditions. If you recognize that a friend, family member, or child is showing anorexia signs, it is important to take the proper steps to help them begin professional eating disorder treatment and begin the path to recovery.

Because individuals suffering from anorexia will go to great lengths to disguise their thinness, unhealthy eating habits, or physical problems, it may be difficult to see the warning signs of anorexia, at least initially. Therefore, by the time that you do recognize anorexia signs, the eating disorder may have been going on for quite some time and the person may be in serious need of medical help. The following are some warning signs of anorexia that you can look for in friends, family members, or loved ones if you suspect that they may suffer from an eating disorder:

  • Sudden and severe weight loss
  • Skipping meals
  • Frequently making excuses for not eating or reporting they already ate
  • Lying about weight loss or the amount of food eaten
  • Adopting an extremely limited diet including only a few certain “safe” foods that are usually very low in fat and calories
  • Establishing rigid meal or eating rituals including cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
  • Cooking elaborate meals or baking for others and then refusing to eat
  • Obsessively and repeatedly weighing themselves
  • Frequently checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Complaining about being fat especially despite being underweight, therefore, showing a distorted body image
  • Eating in secrecy or seclusion
  • Refusal to eat in public or in front of others
  • Withdrawal from normal social activities
  • Wearing baggy or layered clothing to hide small size
  • Loss of menstruation
  • Excessive exercising in an attempt to lose more weight
  • Obsessive preoccupation with food that can cause distraction from normal activities
  • Fatigue, lack of emotion, or irritability

If you notice these warning signs of anorexia in yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. McCallum Place Eating Disorder Centers in St. Louis and Kansas City are available to help you overcome this disorder that can lead to serious medical complications, and even death, if left untreated.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia symptoms can largely be divided into three main categories including mental symptoms of anorexia, behavioral symptoms of anorexia, and physical symptoms of anorexia. Not every person suffering from anorexia will exhibit every one of these symptoms. However, if you recognize more than one of the following symptoms in your thought or behavior patterns or in your physical appearance, please call McCallum Place Eating Disorder Centers as soon as possible in order to prevent the potentially life threatening health risks of anorexia.

Mental Symptoms of Anorexia

The main mental and emotional symptoms of anorexia generally include a negative self-image, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a denial of hunger. Additionally, eating disorders can take over your life causing you to think about food a majority of the time, spending hours agonizing over what to eat, and feeling compelled to exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, you may feel ashamed, sad, hopeless, drained, irritable, and/or anxious.

Behavioral Symptoms of Anorexia

Eating disorders, including anorexia, can lead people to begin a variety of abnormal and unhealthy behaviors. These behavioral symptoms of anorexia include, but are not limited to: an overwhelming need or desire to refuse to eat, a compulsion to lose weight either through exercising excessively, the use of diet pills or herbal products, restricting and purging.

Physical Symptoms of Anorexia

Due to the mental and behavioral effects of an eating disorder, if you suffer from anorexia, you may also recognize any of a number of physical symptoms as a result of the eating disorder. These symptoms generally worsen or become more severe as an eating disorder progresses, but can be extremely dangerous and potentially deadly during any stage in the eating disorder. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness. Physical signs of symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Extreme and possibly sudden weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • A bluish discoloration to the fingers
  • Dry skin, brittle nails, thinning hair, hair loss, or dry brittle hair that breaks easily
  • Edema
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Lanugo, or a soft downy hair covering the body
  • Loss of menstruation or irregular menstruation
  • Constipation
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
  • Frequent feeling of cold

When to Seek Treatment

Eating disorders, especially anorexia, often develop a strong, powerful pull over an individual making these disorders difficult to overcome on your own. If you recognize symptoms of anorexia in yourself or you feel that you may be suffering from anorexia, or any other eating disorder, you are not alone. Contact an eating disorder treatment facility, like McCallum Place, in order to speak with an eating disorder professional and learn how you can overcome your eating disorder.

I had not found a therapist who 'got it' until I came to McCallum place.

– ES, age 26
Marks of Quality Care
  • Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa
  • International Association Of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP)
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
  • RenewED, Eating Disorders Support
  • Residential Eating Disorders Consortium
  • Washington University in St. Louis