Eating disorders range in severity, which may lead someone with a less severe case to believe they don’t have to change. And even when disordered eating patterns are obvious, it can be hard to see or admit there’s a problem.
The only person who can truly diagnose you with an eating disorder is a trained mental health professional. Still, asking yourself some questions may help you gain perspective or better assess whether you might have a problem.
Questions to Ask Yourself
The following questions can help you examine your behavior and determine if you may want to consider talking to a doctor or therapist.
One of the most common signs of an eating disorder is a feeling of anxiety or distress around eating, especially related to eating foods a person perceives to be high in calories or fat content.
While it’s normal to want to eat healthily, it isn’t healthy to feel high levels of anxiety at the idea of at least occasionally eating something that isn’t part of your regular diet.  If you find yourself preoccupied with the idea of confronting “bad” foods or unable to stop thinking about something you ate that was “bad” or “unhealthy,” it may point to a problem.
A common sign of many eating disorders is skipping meals or consuming notably small portions of food when eating.
While it’s true that different people have different levels of appetite, it may point to a problem if you intentionally skip out on food despite feeling hungry or use other measures, like chewing gum or drinking water, to avoid eating.
You might “allow” yourself to eat a larger portion if you promise yourself to “work it off” later. This kind of compromise is called compensatory behavior, with examples including vigorous exercise, periods of fasting after eating large meals, or using laxatives to help move the extra food out of your system.
In more severe cases, someone may turn to self-induced vomiting after eating. But unhealthy compensatory behavior can be much more mild or subtle.
That doesn’t mean it’s less dangerous to over-exercise or use laxatives after a large meal. The thinking behind these compensatory behaviors is equally concerning as the actions themselves, especially when this type of pattern happens regularly.
One of the most universal signs of a developing eating disorder is a fixation on the ideas of body shape, size, and weight.
Most of the time, these thoughts will be directed at your own body, but they can also involve other people. Many people with eating disorders unfairly compare their bodies to others or find certain people’s bodies they consider to be “perfect.”
Yet, despite spending so much time looking in the mirror or thinking about the subject, people with eating disorders of nearly all types frequently have a distorted view of their body, and the reality of what they look like is replaced, in their mind, by their own misguided perception. 
Individuals with eating disorders often perceive themselves as much larger than they actually are and may view people who look quite similar to them as much smaller. People with eating disorders often view themselves as overweight, even if they are medically underweight.
Low self-esteem is so common to eating disorders that some researchers have suggested it’s a necessary prerequisite to developing one of these conditions.
It is not uncommon for people struggling with eating disorders to feel disgusted and/or uncomfortable with their bodies. They may hide their form under oversized clothes or avoid places like the gym or the beach, where people tend to show off their bodies.
Frequently, people with these conditions connect their sense of self-worth to their body shape, weight, and size, and this usually functions to further lower their self-esteem, as people with eating disorders tend to view themselves harshly or hold themselves to unrealistically high expectations.
Disordered eating can cause a variety of health problems. A person may have stomach aches, feel nauseous, feel weak, or experience a variety of other symptoms. A fuller list of common signs and symptoms is below, and if you identify with some of these, it could point to a possible issue.
Eating disorders can and have led to fatal consequences when left unaddressed.  In severe cases, disordered eating patterns can lead to a serious electrolyte imbalance, which can cause life-threatening heart complications.  Malnutrition and other complications that can result from disordered eating can also interfere with many of the body’s key systems.
Common Signs of Eating Disorders
The following are some of the most common signs of eating disorders.  If you identify with a number of these complications, you may want to consider speaking with a doctor or therapist further.
Emotional and Behavioral Signs of an Eating Disorder
- Heavily concerned with body size, shape, and weight
- Preoccupation with calories, nutritional values, or dieting
- Rejection of certain foods or entire food groups, such as carbohydrates
- Discomfort with eating around others
- Food rituals, such as not allowing foods to touch
- Avoiding meals or only eating very small portions
- Adopting strict food or fad diets, especially if this is habitual
- Withdrawal from one’s friend group and favorite activities
- Frequent dieting
- Obsession with body shape and size
- Frequently judging oneself in the mirror
- Severe mood swings
- Extreme picky eating, i.e. not eating foods for their texture, color, or other seemingly arbitrary factors
Physical Signs of an Eating Disorder
- Extreme or frequent weight fluctuations
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Menstrual irregularities
- Problems concentrating
- Feeling cold
- Sleep disruptions
- Dental problems
- Scrapes, calluses, and cuts across finger joints, a possible sign of self-induced vomiting sometimes called Russell’s Sign
- Dry hair and skin
- Brittle nails
- Inflammation around the salivary glands
- Fine hair on the body (lanugo)
- Muscle weakness
- Yellow skin
- Impaired wound healing
- Diminished immune function
When to Get Help for Eating Disorders
If you think you may have an eating disorder, it’s important to seek out help. These conditions tend to get harder on your physical, mental, and emotional health the longer they go on, so the sooner you can find the appropriate treatment, the better.
The main obstacle to treatment is often someone’s own willingness to seek help.
Many disordered eating behaviors are used as maladaptive coping mechanisms, and it can feel genuinely frightening for someone to give these behaviors up. In a world bombarded with diet culture messaging, it can also be tricky to tell when attempts to get healthier or get “in shape” cross into more problematic behavior.
But if you were intrigued by this quiz, that in itself may be a sign that you’ve begun thinking about your eating behaviors in a certain light.
If you identified with any of these answers or common symptoms, that could be a further indication that it may be time to seek help or at least speak with a physician or therapist about your feelings.
These medical professionals can help guide you toward healthier behaviors and ways of processing the way you feel, even if you don’t think you can yet fully stop engaging in disordered eating. Even getting advice on harm reduction practices can be a good way to prevent some of the most dangerous effects eating disorders can have.
With the right kind of guidance, it is possible to move away from any behaviors that may be putting you in danger.
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- Dalhoff, A., Romero Frausto, H., Romer, G., Wessing, I. (2019). Perceptive Body Image Distortion in Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa: Changes After Treatment. Frontiers in Psychiatry; 10.
- Hundemer GL, Clarke A, Akbari A, et al. (2022). Analysis of Electrolyte Abnormalities in Adolescents and Adults and Subsequent Diagnosis of an Eating Disorder. JAMA Network; 5(11):e2240809.
- van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2020). Review of the burden of eating disorders: mortality, disability, costs, quality of life, and family burden. Current Opinion in Psychiatry; 33(6):521–527.
- Warning Signs and Symptoms. (2022). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed December 2022.