Spotting an Eating Disorder: 6 Subtle Signs

January 8, 2021

There is a societal misconception that everyone who has an eating disorder will either lose a lot of weight, gain a lot of weight and/or refuse to eat, make themselves sick after meals, or binge on foods. In reality, eating disorders are much more complex, and the impact on a person’s health is not always visible or obvious. Eating disorders tend to worsen gradually over time, and the early signs can be easily missed or dismissed as unimportant. If you are concerned that a friend or family member may be struggling with an eating disorder, here are six subtle signs to look out for.

  • Talking about food excessively

In some cases, people can become obsessed with food and cooking in response to a period of restriction or starvation. They may want to cook more but choose to give others food and refuse to consume it themselves. This is particularly relevant if they have never had much of an interest in food or cooking before. Other people may learn a lot about nutrition and become obsessed about eliminating certain food groups such as carbohydrates or adopting a gluten-free diet (with no medical reason to do so).

  • Sticking to a strict eating routine

Eating disorders can lead people to become compulsive in their eating habits, e.g., they will only eat at certain times of day, eat the same foods repeatedly (as they know their calorific value), or will only eat using particular utensils, plates, and bowls. They may also have to eat their meals in a specific way, e.g., vegetables before carbohydrates, or always cutting their food in small pieces. They may become upset or irritated if circumstances prevent them from sticking to their routine.

  • Reluctance to eat in front of others

When a person consistently makes excuses as to why they do not want to eat when around others, it could be a sign of an eating disorder. They may feel self-conscious about their appearance, concerned about being ‘judged’ for the food they eat or may be trying to hide an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. For more information about binge eating disorder and possible treatment programs, visit

  • Severe mood swings

The food we eat directly impacts our physical and mental health, and poor nutrition can be a contributing factor to mood swings, depression, anxiety, and stress due to hormonal imbalances. Becoming withdrawn and avoiding social occasions could also be an indicator of anxiety and/or depression which could be related to their eating disorder.

  • Excessive use of condiments

Some people may begin to choose low calorie, bland foods, but cover them with condiments which add flavor but are also low in calories, and some might cover food with a sauce they do not like to deter themselves from eating.

  • Wearing ill-fitting clothing

Eating disorders are usually intertwined with a distorted body image and poor self-care. This might become noticeable when a person wears clothes which are too big for them or keeps clothes which are too small with the intention of fitting into them again. Some people with anorexia who have lost a lot of body fat are likely to feel cold temperatures more severely, and wear lots of layers to keep warm.



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