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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Signs & Warnings

It’s not always easy to know whether you or someone you love has an eating disorder. Many people talk about their weight and dieting, so it can be challenging to tell the difference between someone with an eating disorder and someone who is experiencing normal weight concerns. However, there are some common warning signs of eating disorders:

  • Restricting food or dieting
    • Restrictive eating may include refusal to eat, skipping meals, making excuses to avoid eating or suddenly claiming to be disgusted by foods that used to be favorites
  • Bingeing
    • Some people with eating disorders will eat normal meals around others and then binge in secret—usually late at night or in a private spot where they won’t be discovered; warning signs include piles of empty food packages or wrappers, empty refrigerators or cabinets and hidden stashes of high-calorie foods
  • Purging
    • People who purge will take extreme measures to get rid of calories from a binge or even a snack or meal; purging may include inducing vomiting, fasting, exercising compulsively or vigorously, or using laxatives or diuretics
  • Distorted body image and altered appearance
    • Sometimes a person’s appearance might give warning signs of an eating disorder; watch out for significant weight loss, rapid weight gain and constantly changing weight
    • A distorted body image or an obsessive preoccupation with weight may indicate an eating disorder

Common Warning Signs

  • Worrying obsessively about body weight (even if the person is not overweight)
  • Obsession with food, fat grams or calories
  • Constant dieting, even when thin
  • Taking laxatives, diet pills or water pills to avoid gaining weight
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Exercising too much
  • Refusing to eat or lying about how much he or she ate
  • Avoiding social situations that involve food
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals; throwing up after meals
  • Eating alone, at night or in secret
  • Hoarding or hiding high-calorie food


For extreme emergency (immediate threat of harm), call 911.

If you have an urgent need to speak with someone, please call our psychiatric emergency line at

312-926-8100, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you or a loved one needs help with an eating disorder, please call one of our psychotherapists who specialize in eating disorders at 312-458-9973 to schedule a consultation. Your calls will typically be answered the next business day.

Last UpdateJune 6, 2011


For more information or to make an appointment please call 312-458-9973.