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.