Behavioral Symptoms of Eating Disorders

This list includes involuntary behavioral symptoms and emotional and mental experiences. These symptoms are common and are the result of malnutrition and the processes of refeeding and recovering. Parents and professionals might use this as a checklist or assessment tool throughout weight restoration treatment.


  • Restricting food (not eating enough)
  • Bingeing
  • Vomiting/Purging
  • Avoiding social situations with food
  • Eliminating food types (sugar, wheat, meat)
  • Abnormal, obsessive food rules
  • Avoiding food, afraid to eat
  • Abnormal & ritualistic eating behaviors (cutting food into small pieces, smearing, hiding, destroying, delaying eating)
  • Obsessions/preoccupations with food, cooking, food shows, and cookbooks
  • Anxiety before, during, and after meals (anger, sadness, tension)

Perfectionism & Obsessions

  • Grades and schoolwork
  • Black & white thinking, rigidity
  • Body checking
  • Extremely self-critical, never satisfied
  • Appearance and clothing
  • Excessive movement and exercise
  • Cleaning kitchen, bedroom, etc.
  • Weight & weighing
  • Excessive worry
  • Waking early, not allowing rest

 Physical activity

  • Excessive exercise (type of purging, obsession)
  • Random, ritualized, agitated movement (pacing, not sitting still, pacing, running up & down stairs, tapping foot)
  • Obsession/preoccupation with sports
  • Exercising in secret
  • Uncomfortable with resting

Phobias, Fears, Worries

  • Food, meals, ingredients, eating
  • Fat and fat on body
  • Gaining weight
  • Clothing, clothing sizes
  • Shopping for clothes
  • Seeing themselves in mirror, photos
  • Weighing & knowing weight
  • Being touched by others

Delusions & Perception Problems

  • Anosognosia (unable to perceive they are ill)
  • Food appears larger than reality (distorted visual cues)
  • Body distortions or dysmorphia
  • Body checking (pinching waist, thighs, looking in mirrors, checking thighs while eating)
  • Feelings of bloating & fullness
  • Refusal to eat due to feelings of fullness, constipation, diarrhea 

Depressed Mood

  • Sadness
  • Agitated
  • Tired
  • Irritable, angry
  • Sleep problems, excessive sleeping
  • Feeling less deserving than others
  • Uncomfortable with self
  • Lack of self-care (not sleeping, drinking water, showering, brushing teeth, wearing clean clothes)

Social Anxiety

  • Withdrawn from others
  • Uncomfortable with self, self-critical
  • Discomfort in social situations
  • Inability to read other’s emotions
  • Feeling that others are angry at them
  • Negative feelings about people and situations
  • Fear of eating out with friends & family

Responses to Suffering & Pain

  • Self-harm (cutting, hitting head, pulling body parts or hair, picking, scratching body parts)
  • Rage & anger
  • Running away
  • Swearing & yelling
  • Physical harm to others or surroundings
  • Suicidal thoughts

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All material © 2011-2013 Rhonda Overberger. If you wish to share my original, copyrighted material, please include my name and as the source. Thank you.