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 eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) in your own life or that of a loved one can be a daunting task. But it's not totally desperate; there are many ways you may be able to help.

Current research indicates that early detection and intervention are crucial for decreasing the risk of long-term illness and medical complications from disorders like AN, bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED).5

As there is no guaranteed way to prevent AN, detecting these early warning signs of anorexia is one of the best ways to help people get the treatment they need as quickly as possible and give them the best chance for long-term recovery.

Last updated on 
December 6, 2023
December 5, 2023
Warning signs of anorexia
In this article
two women at a table

Emotional and behavioral early signs of anorexia

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, early signs of anorexia can be divided into two main categories: emotional/behavioral signs and physical signs.3

Emotional and behavioral signs are just what they sound like—anorexia warning signs that can present through someone's behavioral and emotional reactions.

If you or a loved one are expressing some of these emotional symptoms, it doesn't necessarily mean they're early signs of anorexia, but they likely indicate that some type of deeper problem is in play:3

  • Dressing 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 
  • Denying feeling hungry
  • Developing food rituals
  • Cooking meals for others without eating
  • Avoiding mealtimes or situations involving food
  • Maintaining an excessive, rigid exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury
  • Becoming reclusive
  • Concerned about eating in public
  • Limited social spontaneity
  • Intense fear of gaining weight 
  • Disturbed experience of body weight or shape, undue influence of weight or shape on self-evaluation, or inability to perceive body size accurately 
  • Feeling ineffective
  • Has a strong need for control
  • Has overly restrained initiative and emotional expression


Physical anorexia warning signs

Again, the physical warning signs of anorexia are essentially what they sound like—physical signs that someone may be struggling with AN or another serious condition. As the eating disorder progresses, these physical symptoms may become more visible or extreme.

Some common physical early signs of anorexia include:3

  • 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
  • Low body weight
  • 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 the head, dry and brittle hair (lanugo)
  • Cavities
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functioning
two women looking at a checklist

Risk factors for anorexia

It is also important to note the impact of risk factors associated with the development of anorexia nervosa and be especially aware of anorexia warning signs developing in individuals who are at higher risk for the mental illness. 

The term “risk factor” refers to a quantifiable characteristic preceding a disorder's onset. 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.4

Personal warning signs of anorexia
Environmental anorexia warning signs
Dieting vulnerability early signs of anorexia

Finding help for anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness that 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 are 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.

Community support can also help reduce feelings of shame and isolation for individuals with AN and other EDs and enable earlier access to specialized treatment and support.1,2

Treatment wherever you are

If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with anorexia nervosa, learning more and reaching out for advice and support are essential steps towards healing.

You can also reach out to us at Within Health. Our team of multidisciplinary experts can help detect and understand the many factors that work to develop and maintain AN and help someone overcome this range of concerns.

Get help today

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.
  2. Weeda-Mannak, W. L. (1983). Aspects of Early Detection of Anorexia Nervosa. Psychosomatic Medicine, 119-124.
  3. Warning Signs and Symptoms. (2017, February 26). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved July 12, 2022.
  4. Fairburn, G. D. C. M. (1999). Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa: Three Integrated Case-Control Comparisons. Archives of General Psychiatry, 56(5), 468-476.
  5. Why early intervention for eating disorders is essential. (2019, September 3). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved August 31, 2022.


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 eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) in your own life or that of a loved one can be 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...