Eating Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms and complications related to the various eating disorders vary according to the severity of the eating disorders.

Specific symptoms of bulimia without anorexia

This is a more secretive disorder. These patients may be underweight but they are not always anorexic. Symptoms may be very subtle and often go unnoticed.

Behavioral symptoms

  • Sudden episodes of eating large amounts of food or buying large quantities that seem to disappear
  • Evidence of use of laxatives, diet pills, emetics (drugs that induce vomiting), or diuretics (medications that reduce fluids)
  • Using the bathroom right after meals on a regular basis. Long periods of time in the bathroom
  • Eats in private
  • Eats a restrictive diet
  • Binge episodes are usually on high-fat, high-carbohydrate and high-sugar “junk” foods
  • Behavioral problems like shoplifting, binge spending, alcohol or drug use and/or sexual promiscuity
  • Decline in work and school attendance
  • Short lasting relationships
  • Perfectionist behaviors
  • Excessive exercising

Cognitive and mental symptoms

  • Preoccupation with food
  • Difficulty in concentrating, decision making, rigid thinking
  • Fear about intimacy in personal relationships
  • Anxiety, depression, anger, irritable, defiant or stubborn with or without mood swings
  • Feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, loneliness and low self esteem
  • Fear of weight gain

Physical symptoms

  • Broad fluctuations of weight
  • Evidence of red eyes due to broken eye blood vessels during the strain of vomiting
  • Erosion of the tooth enamel, cavities in the teeth and gum diseases from excessive acid due to forced vomiting
  • Cuts and calluses across the tops of fingers due to self-induced vomiting. This is known as the Russel’s sign.
  • Dehydration, fainting spells, dizziness, hand tremors or blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Pouch-like appearance to the corners of the mouth due to swollen salivary glands
  • Rashes and pimples
  • Loss of, or irregular, menstrual periods

Symptoms specific of anorexia

The major symptom of anorexia is severe weight loss.

Behavioral symptoms

  • Severe dieting by restrictive dieting or binge-eating and purging
  • Usually maintain calorie diaries and records of all that they eat. Weigh and measures food
  • Excessive exercising along with severely restrictive dieting
  • Refusal to eat in front of others
  • Ritualistic eating, including cutting food into small pieces or avoiding certain foods
  • Reactivity and hypersensitivity to cold
  • Excessive heavy clothing to prevent from being cold and from the thinness being apparent
  • Shop for groceries and prepare food for others, but avoids eating
  • There may be hoarding of food
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unrealistic perfectionist behaviors

Physical symptoms

  • Weight loss
  • Long periods without menstrual periods among women. Delay in onset of menses in young girls
  • Hair loss from scalp
  • Yellowish skin. This is especially evident on palms of the hands and soles of the feet due to eating too many vitamin A-rich vegetables such as carrots
  • Dry skin covered with fine hair
  • Swollen feet and hands
  • Bloating after eating and digestive problems

Mental symptoms

  • Confused or slowed thinking and poor memory or judgment
  • Conversations and projects revolving around food and weight loss
  • Indecisive or, conversely, rigid “black-and-white” thinking
  • Beliefs regarding thinness equating to happiness
  • Severe self control
  • Anxious, depressed, angry, stubborn or display mood swings.
  • Feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, anxiety and loneliness and low self-esteem
  • Incapability to adjust to changes of routines
  • Severe fear of weight gain
  • Refusal to believe anything is wrong and denial for need for help. May become sulky, angry or defensive when concern is expressed

Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Last Updated: Dec 3, 2012

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