13 signs that someone you know may have an eating disorder

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.

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Karen Andrews is the creator of Karen Andrews. This is one of the most established and well-respected parenting blogs in the country and is a two-time finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition. She is also an author, award-winning writer, poet, editor and publisher at Miscellaneous Press. Is an exercise junkie (when she finds the time).


  1. Tink says

    I have had eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia and BED) for over 20 years, so I recognized all 13… Good for you to do this.
    My TT is about collections I have.

  2. Barbara says

    I have never known of anyone having a n eating disorder, other than over-eating. But, I’ve read lots of these before. Hopefully, you no longer have the disorder.

    Check out my TT

  3. Jamie says

    14) they have to use the bathroom immediately after every meal.

    15) they turn the water on for long amounts of time during bathroom trips so as to not let anyone hear their gag and barf noises.

    16) they can give tips on what tastes the worst and what tastes the best when it’s coming back up.

    17) people always tell them that they look sick or pale.

    My kid sister struggles with Bulimia. Thanks for the list!


  4. Kuanyin says

    Wow…very informative! Mahalo!

    I’ve got mine up a day early. Even though it’s still Wednesday on Maui, I’m eager to be closer to the top and not the runt of the litter anymore! :-)

  5. Thomma Lyn says

    A good post about an important topic. There are so many people out there who suffer from these disorders. Your list is both helpful and compassionately-written.

    Happy TT!

  6. FRIDAY'S CHILD says

    That was a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing them. I’ll take note of it.
    My T13 is up too.

  7. Jane says

    Very good information. I am glad you shared it. I hope it will be helpful to those who are concerned about a friend or loved one.
    My T13 is up!

  8. Rashenbo says

    I haven’t known anyone with an eating disorder either. It sounds like you’ve been through the fires. These are some excellent tips and I appreciate you sharing them.


  9. she says

    thanks so much for your post this week. i think it’s really important to share things like this so others can also move forward and heal.

  10. Journeywoman says

    Thanks for this. As a close friend to one who struggled I unfortunately have three to add.

    14) Whenever you meet them for a meal, they always say “I ate already, you have something.”

    15) Wears sweatshirts or long sleeved t-shirts on the hottest days of the year.

    16) Won’t see you for months if you’re someone who calls them on it.

    I hope you’re doing better.

  11. Babystepper says

    My friend from college fit quite a few of these. We knew she was having trouble at the time. It was painfully obvious just by looking at her.

    She would obsess about food. She constantly wanted to cook food for other people, and would get upset that I wasn’t interested.

  12. Samantha Lucas says

    I’ve had an eating disorder as long as I can remember, only instead of purging I just won’t eat for sometimes three days. It’s managed for the most part now, but sometimes it just jumps up out of the blue. I liken it to falling off the wagon.

    No one in my life cared enough to take notice, but I hope people see this. It’s very important information. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Damozel says

    I had anorexia back in the Seventies when I was in my teens before the word was even in widespread use and I had no idea what was going on (neither did my parents or my doctor). I paid the price later. I really appreciate your setting up this note. If you notice these signs is it a good idea to talk to the person about it? Did anyone ever talk to you? I am really wondering what the best thing to do would be.

  14. Robin says

    Thank you for sharing this list.

    A relative of mine struggled with bulimia for many years. Her journey back was not an easy one.

  15. Lene says

    Great list! I had a good friend that was bulemic. She had most of those.

    Thanks for passing the word on to educate people!

    Happy TT!

  16. Tis me.... says

    This is a wonderful pos. I appreciate your willingness to share your skeletons so that awareness may be brought to those that have not yet been able to turn their lives around. I’ll be linking this on my blog.

  17. Ally Bean says

    Good info here. This list should be required reading for everybody. I’ve known people who have struggled with this disease all their life, and I didn’t know some of your points. Namely, 1, 2 & 11. Thx for posting it.

  18. Coco says

    Really amazing informative TT. I’m seriously worried about a friend of mine since she’s been displaying lots of these symptoms and I’ve tried talking to her about it but to no luck… Hope this helps some more :)

  19. Rebecca says

    Eating disorders are HARD to deal with and, apparently, hard to overcome. I’ve been dealing with one for 3 years, but because it’s not your typical “body image” problem, no one knows exactly how to handle it, including myself.

    Great TT–hopefully it will help someone!

  20. Amy says

    Thank you for being willing to share this important information–and thanks to the other commenters who added from their own experinces. I just found out this week that a good friend has struggled with bulemia for years.

  21. Róisín Rua says

    I’ve been struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia for years now, and I’m thrilled to see you sharing this info with the reading public. I also sadly have to agree with every one of your points. Too many sufferers glamourize their EDs or simply don’t mention them, and that certainly doesn’t help anyone, least of all themselves. Thanks so much for this brilliant Thursday 13.

  22. Jean-Luc Picard says

    MM,you’re listed as a Favourite in my Technorati Faves Train! Be sure to catxh it. See below Part 3.

  23. Danielle says

    You do realize how great you are by sharing your experience to educate others.

    Great way to utilize the forum of TT.

    Be well and enjoy the day

  24. Nancy J. Bond says

    How brave and wonderful of you to share your experience — you never know how many people you may have saved from the same fate. A great TT!

  25. amy says

    Thanks for being so honest with this!

    Amys Random Thoughts is having a blogging scavenger hunt starting May 1st. Details and prizes were announced today! Hope you will come and have fun with us!

  26. Denise Patrick says

    Good list. Thankfully, I don’t know anyone like that, but now I will think about this when I meet someone who might exhibit some of this behavior. Thanks for the education.

  27. fracas says

    Hi miscmum! Wonderful that you’ve posted this. The more help out there in the more places… the better. I have a thinspiration petition page over at fracas, and collect names both at my blog as well as on a global petition (link to that on the blog page)

    There are so many people suffering, and it needn’t be. I was blind to it until my daughter was hospitalized (for something else) and met several girls there in various stages of anorexia and bulimia. It’s so sad.. we need to care.

    Thinspiration Petition at fracas

  28. Tori says

    I am glad that I found your blog and applaud you for this list.
    There can never be enough talk/discussion/learning about eating disorders…the truth sets us free.

  29. Anonymous says

    14. Measures food with measuring cup or food scale all the time.

    15. ALWAYS reads nutrition label before eating packaged food and sometimes decides not to eat based on what the label says.

    16. Records everything eaten in a notebook or on a journal online such as dailyplate.com.

    17. Sticks to a very restrictive diet such as only raw food, only vegan food, only 1 apple for breakfast every day, etc. This is not to say that people who are vegans automatically have an eating disorder, but often people with eating disorders will become vegan so that it is more difficult to find things to eat.

    18. Claims to “not like” many popular foods that are highly caloric. I always say I don’t like fried foods or sweet food, when really I just don’t like the calories.

    19. Spends extreme amounts of time working out even if very tired or sore.

    There are so many more secrets we have and tricks we do to hide the ED.

    I am bulimic. Sometimes I try to recover, sometimes its just easier to give in.

  30. Anonymous says

    I am Bulimic, sometimes I’ll be ok but then something triggers it and it will start all over again. Thia has been going on for about 4 years now. Does it ever go away? or do some people control it better than others?

  31. CC says

    I have just come to the conclusion the other day that I do have a eating disorder. I have all the signs and i have for years now but i have never told anyone. When ever I go any where my family always tells me im to skinny and i need to gain more weight but I keep telling them I need to lose more.

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