By On November 3rd, 2015

Eating Disorder Symptoms That Go Unnoticed

Most people think they know what an eating disorder looks like, but the truth is the majority of individuals with eating disorders live with their condition for years before others take notice. While there are some dramatic signs of these conditions, such as extreme weight loss or refusal to eat, these signs often come late in the course of the disorder.

In most cases, the earliest signs of eating disorders are subtle and vary from person to person. There is no fool proof way to tell if someone you care about is living with an eating disorder, but these easy-to-miss symptoms may be a sign.


Poor Body Image

While eating disorders range in their presentation and symptoms, one factor unites them all: negative or obsessive thoughts about body size. It also serves as one of the earliest warning signs. Individuals with eating disorders often speak negatively about themselves (“I’m so fat” or “I have no self-control”) and may misinterpret other’s comments.

Source: Mike Baird

Source: Mike Baird

Excessive Exercise

Working out can be healthy, but overdoing it can be dangerous. Excessive exercise habits also often go hand-in-hand with eating disorders. While it can be hard to define “over exercising”, there are a couple signs a person may be taking it too far. If a person panics when they miss a day of exercise or works out despite being injured or sick, they are likely overdoing it.

Eating With Friends

Issues With Eating In Public

As eating disorders begin to manifest, individuals may feel self-conscious or anxious about eating in public due to embarrassment or guilt related to their disordered eating and body image issues. Problems with eating in public or around others is most characteristic of anorexia, but it can occur in all eating disorders, including binge eating disorder.


Fine Body Hair

One symptom of malnutrition over an extended period of time is the development of soft, downy body hair. The hair, known as lanugo, is a physical adaptation to severely low weight and loss of body fat prevalent in individuals with anorexia.

Source: Katie Tegtmeyer/Flickr

Source: Katie Tegtmeyer/Flickr

Dry Skin

While some individuals with anorexia develop fine body hair, another symptom of eating disorders can be dry, blotchy skin related to dehydration. Most often this is related to purging behavior in bulimia, but it can also occur due to malnutrition from anorexia. Dehydration is also known to cause dry mouth, and sunken cheeks and eyes.

feeling cold

Feeling Cold

As a result of poor nutrition and lack of body fat, the body struggles to stay warm. It is common for individuals with eating disorders, particularly anorexia, to frequently complain about being cold or wearing heavy clothing even in mild weather. In the most extreme cases, individuals with eating disorders can develop hypothermia.

Source: Cíntia Regina/Flickr

Source: Cíntia Regina/Flickr

Swollen Cheeks

Swelling along the jawline is a common symptom associated with purging behaviors as a result of swollen salivary glands. While this is most common in bulimia, the swelling can occur anytime purging behaviors are present and become more pronounced the longer the behavior continues.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please call (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is the right path for you or your loved one.

2 Responses

  1. Wendi says:

    My Eating Disorder is a shadow in the dark. Prominent and terrifying. Still lurking, waiting for an opportunity to rear it’s nasty deception upon me. Ready to tell me another lie. I have been treated twice at Brookhaven…it has been a long road. I sit here now, quiet admitting once again, I must restart my recovery. Maybe this not what you want to hear but, alas, this IS a message of hope. I am not ashamed. I am not alone. Because of the time I spent at Brookhaven….I have the tools. I know what to do. I am thankful. I am accepting. I am not weak. I will overcome.

  2. Thank you for pointing out that one of the first signs of an eating disorder is the person’s poor body image and how they often speak negatively about the way they look. A friend of mine has been like this for a while now, and it was followed by her refusal to eat anything no matter how I force her. I should’ve known earlier that this is a sign of a more problematic issue. Hopefully, it is not too late to take her to the professional for a treatment plan.

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