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Signs of an eating disorder

These symptoms are not necessarily present all the time, and this list should not be used to diagnose yourself or someone else. Many of the behaviours associated with an eating disorder can be dangerous or harmful to your health.

If you think you might be experiencing an eating disorder, you should see your doctor for an accurate assessment and treatment plan. You can also go to Need Help Now? on this page.

 

Thoughts and feelings

  • Thinking often of what you will or will not eat;

  • Feeling anxiety and shame when eating

  • Planning and thinking about when you will be able to exercise;

  • Extreme disappointment when meal or exercise plans are interrupted or don’t happen;

  • Believing that weight loss will help you to become a happier and/or better person;

  • Feeling fat though others disagree

  • Believing that if you were thinner, more people would like you;

  • Feeling worthless or not deserving of food;

  • Denying your hunger and sometimes not eating even when hungry;

  • Feeling better only when you avoided eating;

  • Feeling confused that others say you are too thin, while you disagree or believe the opposite;

  • Thinking of eating as one of the only things you have control over.

 

Behaviours

  • Eating very little

  • Eliminating certain foods or food groups

  • Having strong feelings about types of food, seeing foods as “good”, “bad” or “unhealthy”

  • Frequently going on diets;

  • Cycles of gaining and losing large amounts of weight

  • Fighting hunger feelings but refusing to eat when you are hungry;

  • Counting calories for everything eaten;

  • Spending a lot of time exercising in order to burn off calories;

  • Being secretive about your eating habits to hide what and/or how little you are actually eating;

  • Being preoccupied with food, dieting, weight and shape

  • Not liking to eat with other people

  • Finding ways to get rid of calories such as using laxatives or vomiting to lessen the anxiety about eating or weight gain

  • Avoiding social situations where eating will be involved or where others might see their body, such as swimming or changing clothes;

  • Having trouble focusing and concentrating at school or work;

  • Arguing with your parents, partner or boy/girlfriend around eating and exercising issues; and

  • Enjoying cooking for others but not eating the food yourself

 

Mental Health issues associated with eating disorders can include:

  • depressive disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • alcohol and/or drug abuse
  • obsessive and compulsive symptoms
  • personality disorders In order to be effective, treatment needs to address all mental health concerns.

 

Getting help

Seek emergency help immediately if you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming yourself or others.

You should also seek help right away if you:

  • Have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns

  • Think physical health symptoms such as experiencing injuries from over-exercising or excessive heartburn and/or stomach ache problems could be linked to your eating behaviours

  • Are experiencing prolonged trouble sleeping

  • Feel as though normal life stresses don’t explain your symptoms

  • Feel as though you have no control over your eating behaviours

Talk to someone you trust – a parent, family member, family physician or other health provider – about how you feel. They can help you determine if you need further help to deal with the issue. Medical help and counselling can help you recover from an eating disorder. Medical treatment must be prescribed and monitored by a physician, and recovery often involves a team approach with other mental health workers who may be available to help.