Dr. Eva Helpard
Counselling & Psychotherapy

Recognizing the Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Since giving a talk at UBCO on eating disorders, I have had a number of calls from people who want to know if they or someone they love have an eating disorder. Here is a quick overview that may help you to decide. These are only guidelines and if you or someone you love is concerned, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are many qualified professionals who can assess and provide direction for treatment for this very serious mental health issue.

There is a difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating. Disordered eating may include over eating, dieting, or restricting certain foods. These kinds of behaviors may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder but are not considered a mental illness. However, if disordered eating starts to take over a personĂ­s life, is distressing and interferes with everyday activities, it may require a professional assessment. The following are an overview of symptoms that may indicate an eating disorder:

  1. Recent weight changes: Rapid and significant weight change can be a warning sign of a potential eating disorder.
  2. Fear of weight gain and body pre-occupation: Intense and sustained fear of gaining weight or changes in their body that pre-occupies and disrupts normal activities and behaviors.
  3. Secretive behaviors: Eating disorders require a lot of hidden and secretive behaviors to sustain them. Hiding food, long showers or escapes to the bathroom after meals, increased time alone and wearing baggy clothing are some of the behaviors that attempt to keep the eating disorder secret.
  4. Low Self Esteem: Intense pre-occupation with body weight, shape and size are often a part of the eating disorder. Critical evaluation of self may increase to the point of distorted thinking or a break from reality.
  5. Vomiting: Some forms of eating disorders involve self-induced vomiting. These behaviors may become a routine part of eating and intense distress may occur when the person is unable to engage in this behavior.
  6. Excessive exercise: Although exercise is often considered a healthy lifestyle choice, for people struggling with eating disorders it can become obsessive, extreme and intrusive.
  7. Pre-occupation with food: Often people struggling with eating disorders are intensely pre-occupied with thoughts about food, eating, cooking, counting calories, sorting food, buying food, and watching food or cooking programs.
  8. Health Problems: Eating disorders may cause a number of health problems over time. These include hair loss, electrolyte imbalances, low blood pressure, amenorrhea (period stops), dehydration, fainting, osteoporosis, cardiac problems, and tooth decay. Some of these physical problems may lead to serious health problems that can cause death. For this reason it is important that all people who are struggling with an eating disorder be evaluated and under the care of a medical doctor.


Source: Adapted from:

Cowden, Susan. (January 13, 2012). Symptoms of Eating Disorders. In About Eating Disorders. Retrieved February 2, 2014, from http://eatingdisorders.about.com/od/do_I_have_an_eating_disorder/a/Symptoms-Of-Eating-Disorders.htm

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