How to Tell If Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder

Eating disorder symptoms and presentations vary from individual to individual, among age groups and gender, and may present differently depending on the type of eating disorder that your loved one may have. Keep in mind that these are general behaviors to look for, and that there may be other causes for significant weight loss. Always encourage your loved one to check with a medical professional so that any dangerous medical conditions can be ruled out. In addition, the onset and progression of eating disorders can present in various ways. I have broken up these signs and symptoms into somewhat general categories.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that involves food refusal: refusal of the individual to consume enough food to sustain a normal weight. You may notice various behaviors, including but not limited to:

  • Refusal to eat appropriate amounts of food, refusal to consume particular types of food, or “fear foods” such as foods with fat content, sugar content, meat, etc. Excessive focus on body size, shape, and weight
  • Frequent weighing
  • Body checking: client will “measure” parts of their bodies throughout the day. You may see them grabbing their stomach, arms, legs, etc.
  • Calorie counting and obsessive focus on caloric consumption
  • Hiding food or throwing away food
  • Significant weight loss (or failure to meet expected weight gains in children)
  • Compulsive/excessive exercise
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted perception of body weight and size (may not be present in children with anorexia)
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Lanugo (baby fine hair on the body)
  • Fatigue
  • Reports of feeling cold
  • Irritability and anger surrounding conversations about food, body, weight.

Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals with Bulimia Nervosa consume large amounts of food in a short period of time. They then may attempt to “rid themselves” of the food by: vomiting, using diuretics/laxatives, or exercising excessively.

Bulimia may often be more difficult to detect than Anorexia, as many individuals with Bulimia maintain a normal weight. However, they also are extremely focused on body, weight, shape, and size, and often are also distorted about how their body appears. Many individuals with Bulimia are ashamed of their behavior and may hide food in order to hoard it for a binge, and/or hide vomit in places that others are not able to readily locate.

Eating Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified)

Includes categories that do not meet criteria for the above listed diagnosis. This category includes: Compulsive Exercise, Binge Eating (without compensatory measures such as vomiting). This category includes symptoms of Anorexia and Bulimia that do not fully meet the criteria listed above, such as food restriction and weight loss that do not meet the specific criteria for Anorexia Nervosa. This category also includes bingeing and purging behaviors that do not meet the frequency specified in the criteria for Bulimia in the DSM-IV (diagnostic manual).


There are many resources available to those suffering from an eating disorder as well as their loved ones. Please see the resources page on my website for further information.

What should you do?

The number one priority for someone suffering from an eating disorder is the stabilization of his or her physical health. It is crucial that they are examined by a medical professional to rule out heart arrhythmias, low potassium, among other issues common among those suffering from an eating disorder. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all of the psychiatric illness, and early intervention is key and a good predictor for recovery. If you suspect that you or your loved one may have an eating disorder, it is important to seek treatment early with a therapist who specializes working with eating disorders. The professional should be able to help you link to a treatment team with nutritionists, doctors, and psychiatrists if appropriate.

I provide psychotherapy for those suffering from eating disorders in Claremont, CA (Inland Empire), and Cypress, CA (Orange County). Feel free to contact me with any questions about treatment options for you or your loved one. I offer a free consultation over the phone at: 562-281-7752.

My Qualifications

  • • Licensed MFT
  • • MFC #47955
  • • Certified Eating Disorder Specialist
  • • Certified Eating Disorder Specialist Supervisor
  • • Certified EMDR Therapist
  • • Tri Lingual Capabilities
  • • 15+ Years of Experience
  • • Professional Associations:

  • Professional Associations

    My Office / Location

    219 N. Indian Hill Blvd. Suite 201
    Claremont CA 91711
    Phone: (562) 281-7752