Signs that someone you know may have an eating disorder

November 10, 2017, Baylor College of Medicine

It is estimated that 30 million people may suffer from an eating disorder at some point, and if these estimates are correct then that number is higher than depression. But what are the signs that someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder? Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Asim Shah explains what to watch out for when it comes to anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.

"Eating are serious conditions that are related to persistent eating behaviors, but they negatively impact your health, emotions and ability to function in important areas of life," said Shah, professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. "More people die of an eating disorder than of any other psychiatric disorder."

The estimates of how many people have eating disorders may actually be low because many people who have an eating disorder don't talk about it, he added.


Anorexia may be slightly easier to identify because families will usually observe in their loved one; however, the person with the disorder will feel like they are not losing . Their weight might be 80 pounds but still when they look in the mirror, they will feel that they are overweight and that they need to lose more weight.

Sometimes people with the disorder know that others will comment that they are losing weight so when they go out, they will try to hide it by wearing baggier clothes or they will put on layers of clothes. In addition, they may eat only a small meal, say they are never hungry or try to refrain from eating certain foods that are very starchy or contain high amounts of carbohydrates. Someone with anorexia also may want to isolate themselves in their room because they want to avoid social situations or they may exercise more than the normal amount to burn off calories. For females, they also can develop amenorrhea, which is a lack of menstruation periods. Other signs include feeling dizzy, not being able to concentrate, pale skin, poor sleep, dry skin, thinning hair, weak muscles and a weaker immune system.


For those who have bulimia, they are constantly dieting and hiding food. They may eat in secrecy and eat to the point of discomfort. After a period of eating, they self-induce vomiting, usually by putting their hands down their throat, so you may actually see marks on the back of their hands. Using laxatives excessively and using the bathroom immediately after eating also can be signs that someone is bulimic.

Binge eating

Binge eating is when eat a large amount of food in a short period of time. When they are binging, they feel a complete lack of control so they eat until they are uncomfortably full. For families, is difficult to diagnose because it only happens in short bursts and it may only happen a few times. If the binge eating is mild, the episode may only happen once a week, and the family may not even know because they may not even be there when it happens. Binge eating may continue for a long time before the family takes notice.

Eating disorders are long-term illnesses, and treating them in a short time period will not be possible, Shah said. He explained that if you think someone you know has an eating disorder, you should encourage them to seek help, and he cautioned against being judgmental or making the person feel guilty.

"One of the most important ways you can help is to offer your support and to act as a listening ear if they want to talk about what they are going through," Shah said. "Treating an is not easy, and it is especially important to have the support of friends and ."

Explore further: Keep an eye out for eating disorders in loved ones

Related Stories

Keep an eye out for eating disorders in loved ones

March 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Millions of Americans have eating disorders, but it can be difficult for family and friends to detect these problems in loved ones, a doctor warns.

Binge eating disorder can be treated

November 10, 2015
When most people hear the term "eating disorder," they usually think of anorexia or bulimia nervosa. While anorexia and bulimia are more commonly recognized, doctors are concerned about a different kind of eating disorder ...

Eating disorders linked to increased risk of theft and other criminal behavior

August 9, 2017
In an analysis of nearly 960,000 females, individuals with eating disorders were more likely to be convicted of theft and other crimes.

Are you eating for the wrong reasons?

July 28, 2017
(HealthDay)—You don't have to have an eating disorder, like binge eating, to have an overeating habit.

Eating disorders are affecting more UK women in their 40s and 50s

January 16, 2017
In a UK study of 5,320 women, 3% were found to have an active eating disorder in mid-life, a figure higher than expected as eating disorders are primarily associated with adolescence or early adulthood. The research was published ...

The incidence of eating disorders is increasing in the UK

May 20, 2013
More people are being diagnosed with eating disorders every year and the most common type is not either of the two most well known—bulimia or anorexia—but eating disorders not otherwise specified (eating disorders that ...

Recommended for you

Researchers explore how information enters our brains

July 17, 2018
Think you're totally in control of your thoughts? Maybe not as much as you think, according to a new San Francisco State University study that examines how thoughts that lead to actions enter our consciousness.

Early puberty in white adolescent boys increases substance use risk

July 16, 2018
White adolescent boys experiencing early puberty are at higher risk for substance use than later developing boys, a new Purdue University study finds.

How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions

July 13, 2018
New research suggests how distancing yourself from a decision may help you make the choice that produces the most benefit for you and others affected.

Nature is proving to be awesome medicine for PTSD

July 13, 2018
The awe we feel in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to UC Berkeley research that tracked psychological and physiological changes in war veterans and at-risk inner-city youth ...

Is depression during pregnancy on the rise?

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Today's young mothers-to-be may be more likely to develop depression while pregnant than their own mothers were, a new study suggests.

Machine learning helps to predict the treatment outcomes of schizophrenia

July 12, 2018
Could the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders one day be aided through the help of machine learning? New research from the University of Alberta is bringing us closer to that future through a study published ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.