Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are becoming increasingly common. They mostly affect teenage girls and young women, but men and older women can also suffer from an eating disorder. Anyone with this medical/psychological condition needs to be treated as early as possible to prevent serious health complications. Early detection and treatment can literally save lives.

There are certain signs and symptoms that can indicate if a person has an eating disorder. The most common ones are listed below. If you notice these in yourself, or in someone you know, there is a chance that you or that person may need professional help. Talk to your parents, a health counselor, or an adult you trust to help you get properly assessed and diagnosed, and if needed, treated.

Physical signs and symptoms

  • Noticeable weight loss (for people suffering from anorexia nervosa)
  • Weight fluctuations (for people with bulimia nervosa). The weight can move up and down, or it can be within the normal range.
  • Intolerance to cold. The person feels cold easily.
  • Frequent experience of abdominal pain, constipation, acid reflux and other digestive issues
  • Feeling dizzy and sometimes fainting
  • Either lethargy or excess energy, or alternating experiences of these two opposite states
  • Irregularities in the menstrual period
  • Dental issues (such as cavities, tooth discoloration and tooth sensitivity)
  • Dry skin, nails and hair. The person may also have thinning hair and brittle nails.
  • Poor wound healing and immune function. She gets the flu and common infections easily.
  • Swollen salivary glands (along the neck and jaw areas)

Behavioral signs

  • Dressing in layers or loose clothing to disguise weight loss (and also to stay warm)
  • A preoccupation with weight loss and dieting. The person is very concerned about food choices and nutritional data (calories, fat content, etc.). She can refuse to eat certain types of food altogether, such as carbs or fats.
  • Frequently commenting that she is fat or overweight, even though it is evidently not true
  • Frequently saying that she is not hungry, including during meal times when she should be hungry
  • Skipping meals or eating very little during meals
  • Occasionally binge-eating (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time)
  • Purging. This is done by going to the bathroom during or after meals, vomiting, or using laxatives and diuretics.
  • Unusual food rituals, such as chewing excessively, not allowing different food items on her plate to touch, and eating only certain food types (for example, vegetables and salads only)
  • Excessive drinking of water or non-caloric drinks
  • Hoarding of food in unusual places
  • Excessive working out
  • Frequently looking in the mirror to check her appearance
  • Difficulty sleeping or getting a good night’s sleep

Emotional signs and symptoms

  • Fears eating in public, or feels uncomfortable while eating with others
  • Prefers to be alone, and withdraws from friends and social events
  • Has extreme mood swings
  • Has an intense and unreasonable fear of gaining weight
  • Has a distorted image of her body
  • May have poor self-esteem

The presence of these signs and symptoms does not indicate with absolute certainty that the person does have an eating disorder. Only a professional medical practitioner can properly diagnose the condition, so it’s best to see one as soon as possible.

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