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Symptoms - Anorexia

The main symptom of anorexia is deliberately losing a lot of weight or keeping your body weight much lower than is healthy for your age and height.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • missing meals, eating very little or avoid eating any foods you see as fattening
  • lying about what and when you've eaten, and how much you weigh
  • taking medicine to reduce your hunger (appetite suppressants), such as slimming or diet pills
  • exercising excessively, making yourself sick, or using medicine to help you poo (laxatives) or to make you pee (diuretics) to try to avoid putting on weight
  • an overwhelming fear of gaining weight
  • strict rituals around eating
  • seeing losing a lot of weight as a positive thing
  • believing you're fat when you're a healthy weight or underweight
  • not admitting your weight loss is serious

You may also notice physical signs and symptoms such as:

  • if you're under 18, your weight and height being lower than expected for your age
  • if you're an adult, having an unusually low body mass index (BMI)
  • your periods stopping (in women who have not reached menopause) or not starting (in younger women and girls)
  • bloating, constipation and abdominal pain
  • headaches or problems sleeping
  • feeling cold, dizzy or very tired
  • poor circulation in hands and feet
  • dry skin, hair loss from the scalp, or fine downy hair growing on the body
  • reduced sex drive

People with anorexia often have other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.

Warning signs of anorexia in someone else

The following warning signs could indicate that someone you care about has an eating disorder:

  • dramatic weight loss
  • lying about how much and when they've eaten, or how much they weigh
  • avoiding eating with others
  • cutting their food into small pieces or eating very slowly to disguise how little they're eating
  • trying to hide how thin they are by wearing loose or baggy clothes

In children with anorexia, puberty and the associated growth spurt may be delayed. Young people with anorexia may gain less weight than expected and may be smaller than children of the same age.

Getting help

Getting help and support as soon as possible gives you the best chance of recovering from anorexia.

If you think you may have anorexia, even if you're not sure, see a GP as soon as you can.

If you're concerned that a family member or friend may have anorexia, let them know you're worried about them and encourage them to see a GP. You could offer to go along with them.

You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling its adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.

Page last reviewed: 15 January 2021
Next review due: 15 January 2024