Disclaimer: I’m not saying that any one of these is an indicator of an eating disorder. A perfectly healthy person may have a few. I’m saying that I displayed all of these when I was suffering from my eating disorder. It is such a secretive illness that I haven’t seen some of these symptoms printed anywhere before, but it’s just the way I suffered, and the case may be different for someone else.

If it helps anyone, I would be very pleased. Pass it along to someone who you think might be interested. Leave comments. I believe in open communication: “You’re only as sick as your secrets”.

1) Look at their hands

Bulimics pry their fingers down their throat to gag and this is not often easy to do. Teeth indentations are common around the knuckle area. My hands bore these marks; it looked like I’d been biting myself. To hide this fact, many bulimics go on to use other objects (like the end of a toothbrush) instead.

2) A change of eating schedule

When sufferers do allow themselves to eat, it’s often in a very regimented and restricted fashion. This is hard when you’re eating in a family environment and you have to follow the times others set for you, so you make your own. If someone suddenly says they want to eat at 6pm when it’s always 7pm, ask them why.

3) Secretive Eating

Some people fast through the day, and then are starving by nighttime and rather than admit to anyone they are eating, do it in secret. Usually then one is filled with self-loathing, and then the downward spiral into purging begins.

4) Sudden interest in cooking

Extreme calorie regulation can occur when a sufferer may allow themselves to cook. If I had to eat, I’d do it on my terms. So, there was no oil used, no butter, no dressing. Very boring, but at least you could say, “Hey, I am eating!”

5) Sudden interest in the grocery shopping

A follow on from above. If you buy all the ‘right’ foods to begin with, you eliminate any temptation to ‘cheat’.

6) Sudden interest in fitness magazines

What’s wrong with this, you might say? Nothing, in itself. But these magazines usually have somewhere a feature on calories in certain foods, or do some sort of profile on a food group. And many people with eating disorders memorise calories counts. I used to know the calorie count of anything.

7) Sudden interest in tabloids, specifically ‘thin’ shots

Many magazines have these sorts of features: “All your favourite skinny stars!” and “Portia deRossi – anorexic or stressed out?” Naturally, most people look at such pictures with a mix of disgust and pity, but those with eating disorders may envy these women and gaze at the pictures with some sort of ‘awe’. If you catch anyone doing this, ask, “Do you think this person looks sick to you?” If they pause before answering, wonder why.

8 ) Complains of sore teeth

If someone you know has lost a lot of weight fast, a vitamin or mineral deficiency may make their teeth aches, even if they’ve been to the dentist recently, with no abnormal report.

9) Feels the cold

I used to wear three or four layers in the autumn and still be freezing. I’ve set my clothes on fire twice from standing too close to a fire to keep warm.

10) Hair Loss

My hair began falling out by the handful.

11) ‘How can you eat that?’ – transference of their own issues

This is a painful one. I would often pass (loud) judgement on others when I saw them enjoying food: “Don’t you know how unhealthy that is?” “Do you know how much fat is in that custard tart?” “Don’t you feel disgusting once you’ve eaten that” “Do you know how much time you need to spend on the treadmill to work that off?”

Naturally, on the inside I was insanely jealous these same people could enjoy their food. I would pick at the remains on the plate, miserable and bereft of self-esteem and confidence. Then I would go buy something bad and do a point (3).

12) Wears baggy clothing

It’s ironic, but the skinnier I got, the more aware I was of people staring at me negatively, so I’d just try to cover up more. I wore a lot of Adam’s clothing: and a 6ft 5 inch man clothes on a 5ft 4 inch girl isn’t a great look.

13) Fatigue

I was too tired to do anything – except go to the gym. I would make allowances for that, but nothing else. So if someone you know is doing the same, ask them why.


Karen Andrews is the creator of this website, one of the most established and well-respected parenting blogs in the country. She is also an author, award-winning writer, poet, editor and publisher at Miscellaneous Press. Her latest book is Crying in the Car: Reflections on Life and Motherhood.