How Do You Know if You Have an Eating Disorder?

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It can be confusing and overwhelming to figure out if you have an eating disorder or not. Even if your friends or family have expressed concern about your eating habits, it may still feel uncertain about whether or not their concerns are legit or not.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you get clear on whether you have an eating disorder or not:

How Much Do you Worry About Your Weight or Body Shape?

This is the only time comparing yourself to others might actually be helpful. Take a step back and ask yourself if compared to other people, do you worry more or less about your weight and body shape? The amount of time you spend worrying about it reveals how much power and influence it has over you, your decisions, and self-esteem.

On a Scale of 1 to 10, How Intense is Your Fear of Gaining Weight?

If the idea of gaining weight sends you into a spiral, that’s a red flag. Everyone cares about their appearance to some extent. But if the idea of gaining weight (even a pound of two!) makes you extremely anxious, it might be a sign of disordered eating.

How Often Do you Diet?

Do you go on fad diets? Are you constantly dieting or trying new diets to try to lose weight? One common sign of disordered eating or a full-blown eating disorder is constant dieting.

How’s Your Body Image?

Everyone has bad body image days from time to time. But if you constantly see your body through a negative lens, this might be something to pay attention to. Pay special attention to this symptom if you view your body significantly more negatively than others do.

Other thing to be concerned about is how much power and influence your body image has over you. If your body image has the power to change the way you see yourself as a person or keep you from doing things you love, there’s a problem.

Check In on Your Eating Behaviors

Take an inventory of your eating behaviors. There are different types of disordered behaviors, but the most common ones are purging, under-eating, fasting, binging, and compulsive exercise. It might be helpful to read about these behaviors so you have a clear idea of what these behaviors really are. This can help you see if you’re doing any of them. These behaviors alone signal that there’s a problem.

Look at Your Functioning

Eating disorders get in the way of someone’s ability to function in work, school, or in relationships. Has your social, academic, or professional life been impacted by your body image or eating behaviors?

For example, if you don’t go to work events because you’re not sure what food will be there or because you have a binge ritual you want to complete, then you may be at risk for an eating disorder.

Another red flag is if your eating behaviors are impacting your medical functioning. You might know that your eating is starting to impact you if a doctor is telling you that based off your weight or labs. Another way you may know is that you are starting to show the physical effects of disordered eating.

It can be tempting to think that if you aren’t showing physical symptoms, then there isn’t a problem. Medical functioning is just one aspect of your overall functioning. While medical concerns become priority given how dangerous eating disorders can be, even if you are technically healthy, the other signs and symptoms discussed are equally as important.

Denial & Eating Disorder Recovery

One of the biggest barriers to eating disorder recovery can be a lack of awareness about the severity of one’s disordered eating. It can be frustrating for loved ones to witness their friend or family member struggling with an eating disorder while they deny they have a problem.

Similarly, sometimes denial can be so strong that we don’t recognize how bad things have become or that there’s even a problem at all. It’s common in the beginning phases of recovery for someone to be struggling with denial about the problem.

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If This is You

It’s scary to admit you have a problem or to think of letting go of these patterns and ways of being. If you recognize yourself in any of the red flags listed above, it’s worth checking in with a therapist, doctor, or nutritionist who knows how to treat eating disorders. You can take recovery at your own pace, but it’s better to start getting a solid idea of what’s going on.

If This is A Loved One

If you’re noticing that your loved one is dealing with denial about their eating disorder, it’s important to remain compassionate. Try to imagine things from their point of view. It’s scary to make changes or admit that something’s wrong. You can express concern for them, but try to do it without judgment. Getting your own support can be helpful.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published October 6, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on October 6, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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About Samantha Bothwell, LMFT

Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.