Signs of Disordered Eating

Katie Wenger
Founder & Clinical Director 

The term “disordered eating” is generally used to describe patterns of behavior that may or may not fit into the full criteria of an eating disorder. This could include irregular eating patterns, as well as restrictive or compulsive eating. And since eating disorders are diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), a significant number of people struggle with symptoms that don’t fulfill all the criteria.

Regardless of a diagnosis (or lack thereof), disordered eating can have significant impacts on the individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Recognizing that behavior is the first step on the path towards recovery. Here are a few signs of disordered eating. 

Physical Signs

A few common physical signs of disordered eating include: 

  • Significant fluctuations in weight.
  • Stomach complaints and pain.
  • Changes in bowel habits.
  • Changes in menstrual regularity, including stopped or missed periods.
  • Feeling dizzy, weak and/or tired.
  • Fainting.
  • Changes in skin and hair (such as being dry and brittle).
  • Acid-related dental problems, including cavities and erosion of enamel (from purging).

Emotional Signs

A few common emotional signs of disordered eating include: 

  • Being preoccupied with weight, food, dieting, calories and carbohydrates to the point that eating and managing weight become a primary concern over other activities.
  • Being preoccupied with body image, body size/shape, a specific part of the body and/or the number on the scale.
  • Significantly limiting the repertoire of foods by restricting whole categories of food and only considering a very small number of foods safe to eat.
  • Performing specific food rituals.
  • Withdrawing from social eating activities.

Risk factors

Here are a few biological, psychological, and sociocultural issues that the National Eating Disorders Association recognize as significant risk factors for developing an eating disorder: 

  • Having a close relative with an eating disorder
  • Having a close relative with a mental health condition
  • History of dieting
  • Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes
  • Perfectionism
  • Body image dissatisfaction
  • Personal history of an anxiety disorder
  • Weight stigma 
  • Teasing or bullying
  • Limited social networks
  • Historical trauma

Seeking Help

The behaviors and symptoms of disordered eating will vary from person to person. These signs should be used as a resource to identify disordered eating, in order to start on a path towards recovery. This is not intended as a checklist. 

You can find more warning signs, including different behavior specific to certain disorders, here on the NEDA website. If you have any concerns about yourself or a loved one, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline and seek professional help.

We know that coping with disordered eating can be a daunting experience. Just know that you’re not alone. It’s important to reach out for support from someone you trust, whether it be a friend, family member, loved one, or a professional. Here at Higher Fulfillment, we believe therapy creates a healing space where you can recognize your strengths, grow as an individual, and take charge of your life. Visit our website now to learn more about how we can help.


woman struggling with food

About Higher Fulfillment

I believe in allowing the emotional space to secure a healthy mindset and choose how you handle life’s obstacles. More peaceful days can be in your future. You can make positive change with the right exploration and guidance. Higher Fulfillment can help you get there…to your best self and best life.

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