Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Early warning signs of anorexia nervosa

Facing an eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa (AN), in your own life or that of a loved one can be a daunting task. Current research indicates that early detection and intervention are crucial for decreasing the risk of long term illness and severe medical complications from these disorders. (5)

As there is no guaranteed way to prevent anorexia, detecting the early signs of anorexia nervosa, and intervention offer the greatest opportunity to heal from this eating disorder. Educating yourself and your community about anorexia warning signs can help create supportive allies for those struggling and make sure that they know they do not need to suffer alone in silence. Community support can help reduce feelings of shame and isolation for individuals with anorexia and other eating disorders and enable earlier access to specialized treatment and support. (1,2)

Last updated on 
August 30, 2023
In this article
two women at a table

Warning signs of anorexia

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, anorexia nervosa warning signs can be divided into two main categories, emotional/behavioral signs and physical signs. (3) It is also important to note the impact of risk factors associated with the development of this eating disorder, and be especially aware of early signs of anorexia developing in individuals who are at higher risk for the illness. 

While the reasons that any individual develops AN are complex and unique, being attentive to common warning sizes in yourself and others in your life, especially children, can help facilitate early detection and intervention.  behavior.

The following signs and risks are common but not universal, as anorexia can develop in people of any body size and not every person with the disorder will exhibit every single associated behavior.

Emotional and behavioral

  • Dresses in layers to hide body changes or stay warm.
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.
  • Restrictive eating.
  • Frequent self-judgment about body shape and size 
  • Denies feeling hungry.
  • Develops food rituals.
  • Cooking meals for others without eating.
  • Avoids mealtimes or situations involving food.
  • Maintains an excessive, rigid exercise regimen – despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury. 
  • Becomes reclusive.
  • Concerned about eating in public.
  • Has limited social spontaneity.
  • Has intense fear of weight gain 
  • Has disturbed experience of body weight or shape, undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or inability to perceive body size accurately 
  • Feels ineffective.
  • Has a strong need for control.
  • Has overly restrained initiative and emotional expression.


  • Dramatic weight loss (does not always occur in AN due to variation in genetic response to energy restriction)
  • Stomach cramps and non-specific gastrointestinal ailments (constipation, acid reflux, etc).
  • Menstrual irregularities.
  • Difficulties concentrating.
  • Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts, slow heart rate).
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Feeling cold all the time.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting).
  • Dental problems.
  • Dry skin.
  • Dry and brittle nails.
  • Swelling around salivary glands in the mouth.
  • Thinning of hair on his or her head, dry and brittle hair (lanugo).
  • Cavities.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Poor wound healing.
  • Impaired immune functioning.


Risk factors pertaining to anorexia warning signs

The term “risk factor” refers to a quantifiable characteristic that precedes the onset of a disorder. According to a study specifically dedicated to risk factors of AN, they can be divided into four categories: personal vulnerability, environmental, dieting vulnerability, and age. These categories were then further specified into the following subcategories. (4)

Personal vulnerability

Childhood characteristics

  • Negative self-evaluation
  • Perfectionism
  • Extreme compliance
  • School absence through anxiety

Pre-existing psychiatric disorders

  • Major depression
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse

Behavioral problems

  • Marked conduct problems
  • School absence
  • Deliberate self-harm

Parental psychiatric disorder

  • Parental depression
  • Parental alcoholism
  • Parental drug abuse


Parental problems

  • Low parental contact
  • Separation from parents
  • Parental arguments, criticism, high expectations, over involvement, under-involvement, minimal affection

Disruptive events

  • Parental death
  • Change of parent figure
  • Parental chronic illness
  • Frequent house moves
  • Severe personal health problems

Parental psychiatric disorder

  • Parental depression
  • Parental alcoholism
  • Parental drug abuse

Teasing and bullying

  • Sexual and physical abuse

Dieting vulnerability

Dieting risk

  • Family member dieting
  • Critical comments by family about shape, weight, or eating
  • Teasing about shape, weight, eating, or appearance
  • Parental history of AN or Bulimia Nervosa
  • Having parents who are in higher weight bodies Being in a higher weight body as a child or prior to the disorder
  • Parental Eating Disorder
two women looking at a checklist

When to seek help

Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness which can have significant psychological, physical, and social impacts on individuals who are struggling as well as their families and communities. It can result in long term medical complications and even death. Early detection and intervention is linked to better treatment outcomes and reduced chances of long-term illness of AN left. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent AN, awareness of risk factors, attentiveness to early warning signs, and access to immediate and supportive care are important ways to facilitate the best possible outcome. If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with anorexia nervosa, learning more and reaching out for advice and support are important steps towards healing.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Kalindjian, N., Hirot, F., Stona, A. C., Huas, C., & Godart, N. (2022). Early detection of eating disorders: a scoping review. Eating and weight disorders : EWD, 27(1), 21–68. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-021-01164-x
  2. Weeda-Mannak, W. L. (1983). Aspects of Early Detection of Anorexia Nervosa. SpringerLink. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4684-4496-4_14
  3. National Eating Disorders Association. (2017, February 26). Warning Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia/warning-signs-symptoms
  4. Fairburn, G. D. C. M. (1999, May 1). Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa: Three Integrated Case-Control Comparisons. Obesity | JAMA Psychiatry | JAMA Network. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/205036
  5. Why early intervention for eating disorders is essential. National Eating Disorders Association. (2019, September 3). Retrieved August 31, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/why-early-intervention-eating-disorders-essential


Further reading

Do I have anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder that may manifest differently in different people and can...

Fasting vs. anorexia

Fasting and intermittent fasting (IF) are popular methods of energy consumption that limit eating to...

Self-help for anorexia nervosa

With its ability to significantly impact a person's psychological and physical health, anorexia nervosa...

What interventions are effective for individuals with anorexia nervosa?

If you have a friend or family member living with anorexia nervosa (AN), you are probably wondering how you...

The similarities between anorexia nervosa and orthorexia

Anorexia nervosa (AN) and orthorexia nervosa (ON) can often be confused with each other due to the similar...

Examining ARFID vs. anorexia

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and anorexia nervosa (AN) share...

Differences between anorexia and anorexia nervosa

People frequently use “anorexia” interchangeably with or as shorthand for “anorexia nervosa.” But the two...

What are the mental effects of anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder that leads to a fixation on...

What is the restricting type of anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder, which involves an intense fear of gaining weight, a...

What is acute anorexia?

Acute anorexia nervosa is the most advanced stage of anorexia nervosa, which is...

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a very serious eating disorder, second only to opioid use as the...

What are the long term effects of anorexia nervosa?

In individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN), some may experience its effects in the...

The limitations of using BMI for anorexia diagnosis

The body mass index (BMI) is a calculation made by comparing someone's weight and height. It's sometimes...

The dangers of anorexiant diet pills

Anorexiant diet pills have increased dangers for those with an eating disorder. There...

What are the signs of anorexia nervosa?

There are many anorexia health risks, which present as symptoms and signs of...

Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious illness that may manifest in several ways...

Is anorexia genetic?

For decades, many assumed anorexia nervosa (AN) was a psychosocial illness...

Identifying anorexia risk factors

Eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa (AN), are complex and serious...

Is anorexia a disease?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is not a disease. A disease is when there is a harmful change in...

How to help someone with anorexia nervosa

If you’ve found yourself on this page, it’s likely because someone in your life has anorexia nervosa (AN)...

How does anorexia nervosa develop?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder that involves caloric restriction...

The hidden characteristics of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is one of the most widely-known types of eating disorders, but...

Harmful outcomes of the pro-ana movement

Imagine that there were websites that encouraged people not to get treatment for...

Examining the anorexia death rate

Eating disorders are routinely cited as being among the most lethal mental health...

Early warning signs of anorexia nervosa

Facing an eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa (AN), in your own life or that of a...

Can you have mild anorexia?

“Mild anorexia” is not currently a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical...

Can anorexia nervosa be cured?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious, and, unfortunately, sometimes deadly disorder. But...

Anorexia nervosa statistics: gender, race and socioeconomics

When examining anorexia statistics, or eating disorder rates in general, the results...

What is anorexia nervosa (AN)?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder involving a severe limitation of food intake, intense fear of...

Anorexia in the transgender community

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder involving severe caloric restriction...