Peer Health


Symptoms of Common Eating Disorders

The symptoms on this list can all indicate anorexia, bulimia, or a compulsive disorder.

  • Feelings of shame, isolation, and/or loneliness
  • A belief that the problem is something unique and therefore must be hidden
  • Drive for perfection
  • Depression
  • Placing the needs of others first
  • Lack of emotional reaction
  • Hesitance to talk about emotional problems (but an ability to listen sympathetically to other people’s problems)
  • Fear of growing up
  • Apparent maturity and sense of responsibility
  • Need for control
  • Trouble relaxing and playing
  • Existential questioning
  • Suicide attempts
  • Past sexual abuse
  • Preoccupation with weight and/or appearance
  • Avoidance of having picture taken or looking in mirrors
  • A need to exercise and a feeling of failure if it’s not done to satisfaction
  • Ritualized behaviors when dealing with food (e.g. cutting food into tiny pieces, hiding food under other food)
  • Other addictive behaviors (e.g. alcoholism, workaholic, neatness)
  • Thoughts of food, weight, or body image disrupts daily activities
  • Secretive about weight, food, or exercise
  • Use of food to gain emotional comfort
  • Avoidance of eating in front of other people and stress when it cannot be avoided
  • Denial of hunger
  • Inability to recognize hunger or confusion of hunger with nausea

While many of these symptoms may be more characteristic of one type of eating disorder than of others, they have been presented in one list to emphasize the degree to which any one person may manifest a variety of symptoms. Every person will have her or his own way of expressing her or his own emotional conflicts. When trying to help someone who has an eating disorder it is important to know the characteristics of her or his disorder, but it is more important to react to the individual and her or his specific variety of conflicts and needs.