Five Important Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa to Watch Out For

Although it affects millions of people, not all the symptoms of anorexia nervosa are well-known. Researching on the internet can be misleading; searching “symptoms of anorexia nervosa”often brings back many dramatic (and potentially triggering) images and descriptions of the disorder, there are more subtle symptoms at play.Anorexia nervosa is defined as a restriction of food intake leading to extreme weight loss and eventually, malnutrition. Although weight loss and calorie restriction are the most visible symptoms,they are hardly the only ones. There are many other behavioral and physical symptoms that can indicate the presence of an eating disorder or another mental health condition. Here are five lesser-known symptoms that can help you decide whether eating disorder treatment is necessary for you or a loved one.


This symptom of anorexia nervosa is easy to overlook; everyone gets tired and fatigued from time to time,Fatigue can also be caused by a variety of medical and mental health conditions, such as anemia or diabetes. This makes fatigue a symptom that a person with anorexia nervosa can explain away – which is a common behavior for people with eating disorders.AS an example, a college student who I beginning to develop an eating disorder might point out the fact that they’ve got more responsibilities and that their body needs more sleep than they did before. Because restriction of food intake reduces the number of calories and nutrients a person has, which fuel the metabolism, anorexia nervosa almost always does cause considerable fatigue, especially over a longer-term presentation of the disorder.


Often related to anxiety and depression disorders which co-occur frequently with anorexia nervosa, insomnia is common for people with all kinds of eating disorders. It’s perhaps somewhat paradoxical, considering that fatigue is so common, but In combination with fatigue, insomnia can become debilitating; people cannot function without adequate sleep.

This symptom of anorexia nervosa is also associated with many other forms of illness, just like fatigue.As with fatigue, the common nature of fatigue as a symptom makes it easy to pass off as something other than an eating disorder. Lack of sleep is often explained away just like fatigue – the person might point to stress from work or school, or personal relationships, to explain why they’re not sleeping well when in reality they’re experiencing a side effect of anorexia nervosa.

3.Wearing Baggy Clothes

The classic symptom of anorexia nervosa is dramatic weight loss. While it may seem counter intuitive that people who are preoccupied with thinness and body shape are prone to wear clothes that hide their body’s shape, many are aware that their low weight will draw attention. Eating disorders tend to drive their sufferers to defend their disorder or hide it away; people with anorexia nervosa often take extraordinary steps to avoid an intervention. Wearing lots of baggy clothes helps hide weight loss and unwanted attention.

AS a person with anorexia nervosa loses weight, their currently owned clothes may also become baggier. Generally, they are not replaced with new,tighter clothes as the person will want to hide their weight loss. As for the actual weight loss itself, it’s often explained away as simply being on a diet. One of the main symptoms of anorexia nervosa is a distorted perception of their body weight and shape – they will often see themselves as overweight despite becoming what physicians would deem a medically unstable body weight.

4.Dry Hair and Skin

Due to a lack of essential nutrients like proteins, vitamins, and mineralsresulting from a restricted food intake, sufferers of anorexia nervosa often experience dry skin, rashes, and increased brittleness of their hair. It’s not uncommon for hair to fallout out or become dry and brittle as a person is denied the proper nutrients to keep their body going.

This may not be noticeable to the family and loved ones of a person with anorexia nervosa – there are countless beauty products and lotions that can hide these kinds of changes.However, if you notice an increase in their purchases of skin care products and/or more hair in the shower or around the house, that may be a sign that there is a nutritional imbalance caused by anorexia nervosa.

5.Gastrointestinal Distress and Other GI Problems

Eating disorder treatment professionals often call things like this, fatigue, and insomnia “hidden symptoms.” Constipation is a common occurrence in the United States due to a lack of fiber and other factors common to the kinds of food often eaten by Americans. As with the other hidden symptoms we’ve discussed, gastrointestinal problems can be caused by a huge variety of things; diet, medications, and other illnesses can all cause constipation and other problems.In some cases, constipation causes abdominal pain.

Restricting food can cause constipation, as well as GI pain, and other digestive symptoms. Additionally, people with eating disorders often abuse laxatives, so this symptom may not be apparent or constant. However, gastrointestinal distress is often a sign of changes in diet or improper nutrition. Loved ones should keep an eye out for laxatives packages and other indications that there are GI issues on hand.

Watch Out for These Symptoms and Contact a Mental Health Professional If Needed

If you see some or all of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, in combination with minimal eating and weight loss, you should reach out to a professional. An eating disorder treatment specialist would be best, but any mental health professional will be able to point you to the best option for treatment.If you’re seeing these kinds of symptoms, chances are strong there is an issue that needs to be addressed. If nothing else, making an appointment with your primary care physician could rule out the presence of an eating disorder.

These lesser-known symptoms of anorexia nervosa aren’t enough on their own to make a diagnosis – after all, any or all of them could be caused by something else. However, when there are two or more such signs in combination with weight loss and changes in eating patterns, you should consider seeking treatment at an eating disorder facility. Family members, friends, and other individuals who are close to a teen or young adult who consistently displays even one of the above signs of anorexia nervosa should be on high alert for the presence of others as well.

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.