Signs of Anorexia – What to Look For

Signs of anorexia range from physical and emotional to behavioral.

Anorexia is characterized by a distorted body image, fear of gaining weight, and restrictive eating patterns. It is a serious eating disorder where a person will often obsess over food, calorie intake, and body image.

Person struggling from an eating disorder

People with anorexia have an extreme need to be thin. Even when they are thin, they often still feel fat. 

Not everyone with anorexia is extremely thin, so it isn’t enough to just look for weight loss. It is important to know some of the other signs of anorexia to watch out for to help your loved one get professional help and minimize the potential consequences of the disorder. 

Common Signs of Anorexia

Signs of anorexia include extreme weight loss, malnutrition, and a refusal to maintain a healthy or appropriate weight for one’s age and height. 

Anorexia is not always visible from the outside, however. Additional signs of anorexia can include the following:

  • Food and calorie restriction
  • Extreme obsession with food and weight
  • Distorted body image, such as feelings of being fat no matter what the reality is
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Excessive exercise
  • Missing meals and refusing to eat, especially around others
  • Food rituals and unusual eating habits
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Mental confusion, memory issues, and poor judgment
  • Stunted growth in those under 18 (not reaching the appropriate weight and height for their age)

Anorexia can impact people of all ages and genders, although it is most common in young women. It regularly begins in adolescence.

Identify eating disorders

How to Spot the Signs of Anorexia

When looking for the signs of anorexia, pay attention to physical, emotional, and behavioral changes. This can mean drastic changes in weight or a person taking on a sickly appearance. 

When someone is restricting calories and their food intake, the body will slow down many of its essential processes to try and conserve energy. This can mean that a person will feel slow, sluggish, and fatigued. 

They may have difficulties regulating cold temperatures, and they may not be able to remember things as easily. They may make poor choices and have problems concentrating. They will often experience low moods and be overly irritable.

Someone with anorexia will also likely isolate themselves, spend less time with friends and family, become more secretive, and stop participating in activities that they used to enjoy. Excessive exercise, even when the weather is bad or there really is not enough time to fit it in, is also a common sign of anorexia. 

Anorexia causes a distorted body image and an obsession with food and being fat. The person will often make comments about needing to “burn” off foods or calories. They may commonly discuss their body and being fat.

The Importance of Recognizing the Signs of Anorexia

Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening mental health condition. Eating disorders are the second most deadly mental illness behind only opioid addiction and overdose. 

It is therefore vital to get help for someone with anorexia as soon as possible.

Anorexia can have serious medical and mental health consequences. The earlier you get treatment, the less severe these potential side effects will be. 

Early intervention and treatment for anorexia can enhance the speed of recovery, minimize symptoms, and improve outcomes. Recognizing the signs of anorexia and seeking professional help for the disorder can literally be lifesaving.

Helping Someone Get Treatment

Someone with an eating disorder like anorexia is often either in denial that there is a problem or does not recognize the severity of the issue. Loved ones are essential in helping someone with anorexia realize the need for specialized professional treatment.

If you recognize the signs of anorexia in a loved one, you should talk to them about this to encourage them to enter a treatment program. 

Here are tips for discussing concerns about a possible eating disorder:

  • Educate yourself first on the signs of anorexia, treatment options, and causes of the disorder.
  • Rehearse your conversation ahead of time. It can be helpful to write down bullet points.
  • Find the right time and place to have the conversation in private.
  • Use “I” statements and focus on your concerns and behaviors that you have personally witnessed.
  • Be calm, firm, and honest while sticking to the facts.
  • Understand that there might be a negative reaction. Keep expressing your support, and aim to reduce potential shame.
  • Encourage them to get professional help. Offer to help them with their treatment and recovery journey.

Resources


  1. Anorexia Nervosa. (2022). National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). 
  2. Overview – Anorexia. (January 2021). NHS.
  3. Eating Disorder Statistics. (2021). National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).
  4. Associations Between Symptoms of Eating Disturbance and Frequency of Physical Activity in a Non-Clinical, Population-Based Sample of Adolescents. (April 2019). Journal of Eating Disorders.
  5. Why Early Intervention for Eating Disorders Is Essential. (2022). National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

Last Update | 11 - 23 - 2022

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