The Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia

NOTE: Not everyone will display all signs

Behavioural Signs

With Food

  • Repeatedly avoiding meals (saying “I’ll eat later”, “ I ate with friends”)
  • Refuse to eat with the family or in front of people
  • Reduction in amount and types of food eaten
  • Not wanting to eat what everyone else is having
  • Lie to family and friends about how much they have eaten
  • Become very deceptive around food and eating – ie. they may eat a normal size dinner with the family but this could be all they have eaten that day
  • Eating meals but extremely restless or guilty after the meal as their anxiety grows
  • Pre-occupation with food and feeding others (counting calories, reading recipes)
  • Unusual eating habits (eg. preference for foods of a certain texture or colour, eating with a teaspoon, adding lots of condiments)
  • Compulsively arranging food and/or cutting into tiny pieces
  • Very rigid around food – only eating particular types of food or at certain times.
  • Eating unusual mixtures of food
  • Denying hunger
  • Dieting when not overweight


  • Frequent weighing
  • Talking about new diets and expressing the desire to be thinner
  • Increasing isolation, disinterest in social activities, work and /or study
  • Social Withdrawal and intolerance of others
  • Excessive exercising
  • Wearing baggy clothes
  • Deny being ill

Emotions & Thoughts

  • Distorted body image: believes they are fat even when very thin
  • General dissatisfaction with appearance and figure. Expressing the desire to change
  • Extreme concern about appearance, both physical and behavioural
  • Thinking in extremes (If I’m not thin, I’ll be grossly obese)
  • General apathy and/or depressive outlook on life
  • Moodiness, irritability, depression, argumentative – especially around meal times
  • Inflexibility
  • Oversensitive to criticism
  • Feel very guilty about eating
  • Have black and white thinking about food. ie good food & bad food
  • Have low self esteem
  • Have a need for perfection
  • Have periods of depression


Signs of Starvation / Malnutrition / Underweight

  • Significant weight loss in the absence of a related illness. However, not always – with young people it may be the case that they just don’t grow and put on weight
  • Thinning of Hair or hair loss
  • Appearance of fine raised white hair (lanugo) on the body
  • Bloated appearance of stomach
  • Yellowish appearance of the palms or soles of feet
  • Dry, pale, pasty Skin
  • Loss of periods (amenorrhea) or irregular periods

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