Signs of Anorexia

Behavioural Signs

If you're worried that someone is developing anorexia, often changes in behaviour are noticeable before changes to physical appearance. These changes may include:

  • 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

  • Rigid rules about 'good' food and 'bad' food

  • Counting the calories in food excessively

  • Eating only low-calorie food, or otherwise limiting the type of food they will eat

  • 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 

  • Wearing baggy clothing to hide their body, due to self-consciousness or to make weight loss less noticeable

  • Compromise of education and employment plans

Psychological  Signs  

Anorexia is a mental illness, and you might notice changes in the way you or someone you know feels before physical symptoms become obvious. Psychological signs include:

  • 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


Starvation affects all the body’s organs, including the brain and muscle tissue. People with anorexia nervosa often experience physical signs of starvation, which may include:

  • 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

  • Poor circulation

Long term effects of anorexia

Like any eating disorder, anorexia can have long-term physical effects, some of which may be irreversible, including:

  • One of the top long term health risks of anorexia has to do with our bones. Nearly 90 percent of women with anorexia experience a condition known as Osteopenia, which translates to a loss of bone calcium. Up to 40 percent of the people that suffer from anorexia may also face Osteoporosis, which means an advanced loss of bone density. 

  • In severe cases, the long term health risks of anorexia may result in suffering nerve damage that affects the brain and other parts of the body. As a result, these nervous system conditions can include: Seizures; Disordered thinking and/or numbness or tingling in the hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Difficulty conceiving, infertility 

  • Heart problems:Typically, heart disease is the major cause of death in people with severe anorexia. A common side effect is a slower heart rate  or bradycardia (below 60 bpm)

  • Damage to other organs, such as the kidneys, bowels and liver

  • Weakened immune system

  • Delayed onset of puberty or stunted growth in children and young teenagers ( boys and girls)

You don't  need to be underweight to have anorexia

Some common signs of anorexia include fear of fatness or pursuit of thinness, preoccupation with body weight and a distorted perception of body shape or weight. 
There are other Behavioural, Psychological and Physical signs.