What is “Eating Disorder” – Signs and Symptoms

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Tuesday, February 24, 2015
By Courtney Pastner, RMFTI

Eating disorder awareness is instrumental in the health and well-being of boys/girls and men/women of all ages. In the United States alone, 30 million people will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. In addition, eating disorders are the most deadly mental health disorder. According to a study done by Dr. Jon Acrelus, anorexia is four times more deadly than clinical depression, three times deadlier than bipolar disorder and two times more deadly than schizophrenia. Bulimia creates a 1.93 fold increase in death risk compared to healthy individuals and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) leads to a 1.92 fold increase in death risk. Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly!

Eating disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. What’s often misunderstood is that eating disorders are not just about food and weight, eating disorders are very complex disorders that include a very deep emotional aspect. It’s a two-fold process – the mental and the physical. As practitioners, we hold both pieces so it’s important for clients with eating disorders to have a team. A team usually includes a therapist, a dietician, a doctor and possibly a psychiatrist. The team works together to help the client regain health emotionally and physically.

Eating disorders do not discriminate in age, gender or ethnicity. As stated earlier, they are complex disorders and there is no one specific way someone with an eating disorder looks. Everyone is different; however, something a lot of people struggling have in common are the feelings of shame and guilt, lots of self-criticism, low self-confidence and a high level of anxiety and/or depression.

Below are some signs/symptoms of the different eating disorders. This is not an end-all list so if you think you are struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is, please reach out for help; recovery is possible.


▪       Refusal to maintain a body weight normal for age and height

▪       Intense fear of becoming fat even though underweight

▪       A distorted self-image that results in diminished self-confidence

▪       Denial of the seriousness of emaciation and starvation

▪       Possible loss of menstrual function

▪       Withdrawal from friends and activities

▪       Excuses for not eating/denial of hunger

▪       Food rituals intense, dramatic mood swings

▪       Pale appearance/yellowish skin-tone

▪       Thin, dull, and dry hair, skin, and nails

▪       Cold intolerance/hypothermia

▪       Fatigue/fainting

▪       Abuse of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics

▪       Excessive and compulsive exercise


▪       Bingeing and purging

▪       Secretive eating and/or missing food

▪       Visits to the bathroom after meals

▪       Preoccupation with food

▪       Weight fluctuations

▪       Excessive and compulsive exercise regimes — despite fatigue, illness, or injury

▪       Abuse of laxatives, diet pills, and/or diuretics

▪       Swollen parotid glands in cheeks and neck

▪       Discoloration and/or staining of the teeth

▪       Broken blood vessels in eyes and/or face

▪       Calluses on the back of the hands/knuckles from self-induced vomiting

▪       Sore throat

▪       Heartburn/reflux

Binge Eating Disorder:

  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time, or finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Hoarding food, or hiding large quantities of food in strange places
  • Eating large quantities of food, without purging behaviors, when not hungry
  • Sense of lack of control over eating
  • Eating until uncomfortably/painfully full
  • Weight gain/fluctuations
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • Self-medicating with food
  • Eating alone/secretive eating
  • Hiding food

There are other forms of eating disorders such as orthorexia. Orthorexia can have a very destructive impact on someone’s life. It can even be deadly. Orthorexia is when a person’s disorder is centered around health and healthy eating. Some of the signs/symptoms of orthorexia include the following:

▪       Getting more pleasure from the perceived virtue of food than from actually eating it

▪       Decreased quality of life as the focus on “better” quality food increases

▪       Being increasingly rigid and self-critical about their eating

▪       Defining self-esteem and self worth by the quality of food eaten

▪       Having a lower opinion of people who do not eat what they deem healthy

▪       Describing healthy food as “pure,” “proper,” or “correct”

▪       Eating only at home where they have total control of the food, therefore withdrawing socially

▪       Obsess about how food was processed, prepared and how it will impact the body

▪       Feeling guilt or self-loathing when eating the “incorrect” food

Courtney Pastner is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist intern at Coral Gables Counseling Center. Courtney specializes in helping children, adolescents and adults overcome the deeper struggles that create challenges and obstacles in their lives such as anxiety, lack of confidence, relationship issues, perfectionism and fear of failure, to name a few. Courtney helps her clients develop a new set of tools, knowledge, and understanding to be able to cope with adversity and have a healthy and happy life. To set up an appointment, Courtney can be reached by cell at 281-799-0566 or through the Center at 305-445-0477. Feel free to email her at courtney@coralgablescounseling.com.