They may appear sickly or what others may consider too thin. They have an unhealthy relationship with food and eating and a distorted body image, believing they are fat when they are not.
While malnutrition and not maintaining a healthy weight for your age and size are common signs of anorexia, people who are not underweight can also struggle with the disorder. It is not always possible to recognize that someone has anorexia simply by looking at them.
There is a range of physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and anorexia symptoms to watch out for that can help pinpoint the disorder that is present.
Physical Symptoms of Anorexia
With anorexia, a person will often become malnourished as they are not getting the proper nutrients or number of calories needed to sustain body functions.
Some of the physical symptoms of anorexia can include the following:
- Extreme weight loss
- Mental confusion
- Stomach cramps or bloating
- Poor memory and judgment
- Blotchy or yellow skin
- Sensitivity to cold, often wearing many layers to compensate
- Brittle nails
- Thinning hair
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Fine hair on the body, called lanugo
- Lack of or disruption of the menstrual cycle in women
- Loss of muscle and body fat
- Dry skin
- Unusually low BMI (body mass index)
- Stunted growth (people under 18 have lower heights and weights than they should)
- Poor wound healing
- Immune function impairment
- Cavities or teeth discoloration from vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Sleep issues
Psychological & Behavioral Symptoms of Anorexia
People with anorexia lose more weight than is healthy for their height and age. They often diet or exercise to lose weight and maintain a low weight.
Someone with anorexia is commonly extremely focused on body image. They have difficulty recognizing the serious consequences of extreme weight loss, and they refuse to keep their weight at healthy levels. Often, someone with anorexia weighs 15% or more below what is considered to be a normal weight for their age and height.
Some of the behavioral symptoms of anorexia are as follows:
- Obsession with food, food preparation, and calorie intake
- Unusual eating habits, such as pushing food around their plate or cutting food into small pieces
- Excessive exercising even when the schedule is tight or the weather is bad
- Missing meals
- Refusing to eat around other people
- Vomiting after eating
- Taking appetite suppressants or “diet” pills
- Food restrictions
- Dressing in layers to hide body shape
- Making excuses not to eat
- Cooking for others and not eating
- Trips to the bathroom after eating, often to throw up
Psychological or emotional symptoms of anorexia can include the following:
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Mood swings
- Loss of interest in sex
- Distorted body image, such as feeling fat even if not
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of self-confidence and low self-worth
- Extreme fear of being fat
- Inflexible thinking patterns
- Strong need for control
When to Get Treatment for Anorexia Symptoms
More than one person dies every hour from an eating disorder. Anorexia is a serious mental illness that can cause a host of emotional, physical, and behavioral issues that need to be addressed.
If you have a negative view of your body, feel that you are fat, fear gaining weight, and have other anorexia symptoms, it is time to get professional treatment.
A professional treatment program for anorexia can help you to have a more positive relationship with food and a healthier self-image. With a specialized treatment program, you can receive medical treatment, mental health support, nutrition education, and behavioral therapies.
It is important to start treatment as early as possible to limit the negative consequences of severe weight restriction and malnutrition. With help, you can attain long-term recovery.
- Overview – Anorexia. (January 2021). NHS.
- Anorexia Nervosa. (March 2022). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- Eating Disorder Statistics. (2021). National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).