Warning Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, more commonly known as anorexia, is an eating disorder that affects a staggering amount of people. If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia, you know this psychological disorder is characterized by the ongoing pursuit of thinness by restricting food intake. Anorexia also comes with an extreme distortion in body perception and fear of weight gain. Yet people with anorexia (and this disorder can affect individuals of any age, race, gender) are often manipulative and deceptive, making spotting anorexia difficult at times.

Early Warning Signs of Anorexia

Body Focused

Obviously, seeing your loved one losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time is cause for concern. But in the early stages of anorexia, this is not always the case. Instead, individuals who develop anorexia are typically unhappy with their physical appearance and become fixated on all things concerning his or her body. Commenting negatively about their body, looking in the mirror (body checking), asking others for reassurance about weight or shape, or comparing bodies with others are all behaviors to watch out for. Also, frequently using the scale to weigh themselves and/or increased exercise are important factors to look out for.

Food Obsessions and Rituals

If you suspect someone you know might have anorexia, looking at his or her habits around food is vital. Many of these behaviors are not overtly apparent such as only eating at certain times, sticking to specific foods, or eating foods in a cyclical nature. Other habits to be aware of are counting calories, taking small bites, and eating very quickly. Anorexics develop many of these behaviors and obsessions around food as a way to feel in control.

Emotional Changes

Someone in the early stages of an eating disorder will most likely exhibit a change in emotions. Increased irritability is common, which is often a result of malnourishment. Irritability can also become apparent as a result of increased sensitivity to criticism. People with anorexia are already highly self-critical, and any added criticism from the outside world becomes very difficult absorb.

Warning Signs of Active Anorexia

If your loved one has progressed deeper into his or her anorexia, you may notice more apparent and evident warning signs.

Food and Meal Time Warning Signs

Skipping meals is probably the most significant indicator. Yet, keep in mind that again, anorexics are sneaky. He or she may say things like, “I’m not hungry” or “I already ate” in an attempt to avoid persuasion to eat. If the individual is willing to sit down to a meal they may consistently want to weigh the food, or use a “chew and spit” method to eating. Some individuals struggling with anorexia will also make lists of “good” and “bad” foods, solely eating the foods on the “good” list which is often very limited.

What many do not realize is that those struggling with anorexia are often actually obsessed with food. This may be evident in his or her desire to cook extravagant meals for others, but not actually consume them. Similar, is the frequent focus on television about cooking and recipes.

Fear of Weight Gain

The behaviors you may be noticing around food and meal times are significant and most likely indicate a fear of weight gain. Solely controlling food intake is typically not enough to compensate for the anorexic’s fear of weight gain. This is why it may be crucial to note the presence of any diet pills or laxatives.

Another way individual’s control weight is through exercise. While a moderate amount of exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, many with anorexia will exercise in an increasingly escalated manner.


The rigidity that those struggling with anorexia uphold regarding their body and food, is the same rigidity they often apply to other areas of life. Like seeking a perfect body, anorexics also seek perfectionism in other areas of life such as work and school. The drive for perfectionism in anorexia tends to stem from the intense self-criticism that these individuals endure.


Isolation is also a significant warning sign for anorexia. Isolating means retracting from friends, family, and activities. Some reasons for this include wanting to act out in eating disorder behaviors (avoiding meals, exercising, etc.) or feeling hopeless, anxious, and/or depressed.

Quick List of Warning Signs in Anorexia

  • Mood changes
  • Presence of diet/laxative pills
  • Obsessiveness around food
  • Weight loss
  • Wearing loose clothing (an effort to cover up weight loss or avoid body comments)
  • Increased exercise
  • Mood changes, especially around food and meal times
  • Isolation
  • Focus on body shape and size
  • Loss of interest in social outlets and activities

If you suspect a loved on is struggling with anorexia, there are some questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity on the individual’s behaviors:

  • Is he/she skipping meals?
  • Is he/she exceedingly concerned about gaining or losing weight?
  • Is there food hidden in his/her room?
  • Have you found diet pills or laxatives that you did not purchase?
  • Do he/she wear loose-fitting clothing?
  • Does he/she spend excessive amounts of time in the bedroom?
  • Has he/she become increasingly secretive?
  • Does he/she focus on the calories in foods eaten?
  • Has he/she suddenly adopted a vegetarian/vegan/other diet?
  • Is he/she spending more time exercising?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, and are concerned that your loved one may have anorexia, you can call the National Eating Disorder Hotline at 1-800-931-2237

Latest Articles

Leave A Reply