Signs of Anorexia

Some of the more common signs of anorexia nervosa are:

Behavioural signs

  • Saying they have eaten earlier or will eat later, or that they have eaten more than they have
  • Not being truthful about how much weight they have lost
  • Strict dieting and avoiding food they think is fattening
  • Counting the calories in food excessively
  • Eating only low-calorie food
  • Missing meals (fasting)
  • Avoiding eating with other people
  • Hiding food
  • Cutting food into tiny pieces to make it less obvious they have eaten little or to make food easier to swallow
  • Eating very slowly
  • Taking appetite suppressants, such as slimming or diet pills
  • Obsessive and/or rigid behaviour, particularly around food
  • Irritability
  • Excessive exercising – this might involve exercising when not physically well enough to do so, or feeling guilty or anxious about not exercising
  • Vomiting or misusing laxatives (purging)
  • Social withdrawal and isolation 
  • Compromise of education and employment plans

Psychological signs

  • Fear of fatness or pursuit of thinness
  • Excessive focus on body weight
  • Distorted perception of body shape or weight – for example, thinking they are much larger than they are
  • Underestimating or denying the seriousness of the problem, or believing there isn’t a problem at all, even after diagnosis
  • Spending a lot or most of their time thinking about food
  • Anxiety, particularly about eating in front of other people
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Perfectionism and setting very high standards for themselves 
  • Other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Physical signs

  • Weight loss
  • Irregular periods, or periods stopping altogether
  • Lack of sexual interest
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Stomach pains
  • Constipation
  • Bloating 
  • Feeling cold or have a low body temperature 
  • Growth of soft, fine hair all over your body (called lanugo)
  • Hair loss
  • Physical weakness
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Effects on hormone levels 
  • Swelling in their feet, hands or face (known as oedema)
  • Low blood pressure

Long term effects of anorexia

Like any eating disorder, anorexia can have long-term physical effects, some of which may be permanent, including:

  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Difficulty conceiving, infertility 
  • Heart problems
  • Damage to other organs, such as the kidneys and liver
  • Delayed onset of puberty or stunted growth in children and young teenagers

Issue date: September 2017  Review date: September 2020 Version 2.0 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.

What even is recovery?

Recovery... Everyone is always told “to choose recovery” but we are never told exactly how to achieve this or what this even really means.

When I was diagnosed with Anorexia, I was immediately expected to ‘just recover’, so being the perfectionist and ‘people pleaser’ that I am, I chose to fake my recovery.

You do not need to be underweight to have an eating disorder

An eating disorder is not about an extremely low Body Mass Index (BMI) or an emaciated figure, and even though this is how it ended up for me it makes me wonder, now I am on the road to recovery, if my road could have been different. I want to share what I have learnt with you. I feel if sharing my first-hand experience helps you or someone you know, my journey may have been a little less futile.