Recognizing an Eating Disorder

Listed below are some of the behaviors that a parent might observe as a loved one develops an eating disorder.

Around Food:

  • Avoiding situations where communal eating is expected
  • Inflexibility about what or when or how much to eat
  • Unnatural focus on what others are eating
  • Need to know calorie content of all foods
  • Never available for family meals
  • New interest in cooking and recipes but avoiding eating the food
  • Foods, especially carbohydrates, disappearing quickly from the house (secret binging)
  • Secretive or ritualistic eating
  • Avoiding food until certain hours
  • Anger at others if pressed to eat something
  • Fear of over-eating, or gaining weight from a particular meal or type of food

Around Activity:

  • Exercising intensely but without pleasure
  • Needing to exercise to compensate for eating


  • Failure to gain weight or height according to growth curve
  • Weight loss at any time during childhood or adolescence


  • A conviction that one is too large
  • Unnatural focus on the flaws of a particular body part or aspect of the body
  • Repetitive requests for reassurance about appearance


  • Social withdrawal
  • Reports that others are newly judgmental or “not connecting”

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