10 signs someone you love may have an Eating Disorder

Watching someone you love experience an eating disorder can be heart wrenching.  As parents and carers, we want to do all that we can to help and prevent their illness from worsening.  We know from research that it is really important to catch any eating disorder behaviours early on and offer your loved one the help they need before they deteriorate. 

Eating disorders can be difficult to detect early on, and so it is important to look out for all the signs and symptoms no matter how subtle they may appear to be.

Look out for these signs someone you love may have an Eating Disorder

1. Dieting

  • Fasting or skipping meals
  • Cutting out food groups (ie sugar, carbs, fat, dairy)
  • Counting calories/kilojoules 
  • Weighing out food

2. Preoccupation with exercise

  • Rigid exercise routine that will cause distress if disrupted 
does my teen have an eating disorder?
  • Obsessive use of fitness watches or trackers (obsession with reaching ‘step goals’)
  • Exercising as a ‘punishment’ for food or to ‘earn’ food – comments such as ‘I’m going to have to hit the gym after this pasta’ OR ‘Thank goodness I exercised today, now I can eat this pasta

3. Secrecy or lying 

  • Hiding food – whether it be food that was supposed to be eaten or hiding a stash of food for bingeing 
  • Saying they have eaten when they haven’t or that they haven’t exercised when they have
  • Secret exercising or eating

4. Sudden obsession with their health 

  • It’s easy to mask an eating disorder with a passion for healthy foods – for example, the eating disorder, orthorexia, is an obsession with ‘clean’ eating
  • It’s important to realise that your loved one can still be eating and have an eating disorder
  • Cutting out all ‘unhealthy’ foods and only eating ‘healthy foods’
  • ‘Detoxes’ or ‘Cleanses’
teen with eating disorder angry

5.  OR sudden disinterest in their health 

  • Smoking, drug or alcohol use may increase – smoking and some drugs are promoted to suppress appetite
  • Self-harm 
  • Drinking lots of black coffee, diet soft drinks/energy drinks rather than meals 
  • Sedentary lifestyle – unable to be active or exercise due to extreme low energy


6. Physical signs 

  • Losing period if female
  • Weight going up and down 
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Tired, fatigued, dizzy, moody
  • Swollen cheeks, calluses on knuckles, damage to teeth, bad breath (indicators of self-induced vomiting or starvation)
  • Always cold
  • Thinning hair


7. Frequent trips to the bathroom 

  • Going to the toilet often and/or for long periods of time during or after meals 
  • Long showers after meals 
  • Trips to the bathroom could be an indication of laxative or diuretics use, or vomiting 


8. Increase or decrease in socialising 

  • May skip socialising to avoid food or to do exercise – isolating themselves from the outside world to stick to a strict diet/exercise plan
  • May increase socialising for constant distractions from food or to avoid mealtimes at home 


9. Mood disturbances

  • Become very upset or agitated when talking to them about food or exercise
  • May become angry or defensive if you show concern/ask if they have eaten etc
  • May isolate from family and friends and spend long periods of time alone in their bedroom


10. Poor/distorted body image 

  • May also wear big baggy clothes 
  • Obsessed with changing their body – frequent use of scales or tape measures and mirror checking
  • Obsession with ‘body goals’ – may have on social media or printed pictures of those with the body they are aiming to achieve – ‘thinspo/fitspo’


If you are concerned about someone you care about, please take the online early intervention tests at either Feed Your Instinct or ROAR.