Eating Disorders Screening

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions. If left untreated, they can severely impact physical and emotional health. About 1 in 10 people in the United States will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime. And many experts believe that eating disorders affect about half of the American population.1,2

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. It is important to recognize the warning signs so that you or a loved one can get treatment as soon as possible. There are several screenings that professionals can use to diagnose eating disorders.2

Common types of eating disorders

There are many types of eating disorders. Each has unique features and challenges. Some common types are:3,4

  • Anorexia nervosa – Also called anorexia, this condition involves obsessively restricting food intake. The result is extreme weight loss and a distorted body image.
  • Binge eating disorder – This disorder involves episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short period of time (bingeing). This occurs along with feelings of being out of control. A person may feel guilt or shame after an episode.
  • Bulimia nervosa – Bulimia is when a person repeats a binge-purge cycle. After a binge episode, they perform acts of purging to prevent weight gain. Purging may include purposeful vomiting, intense exercise, or laxative use.
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) – Here, a person has extreme avoidance or restriction of certain foods. This leads to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) – This category includes disordered eating patterns that do not meet the criteria for other eating disorders. But it still poses serious health risks.

Warning signs of eating disorders

Learn how to identify the early warning signs of an eating disorder. These signs may include:5

  • Drastic and sudden weight loss or changes
  • Preoccupation with body image, weight, and appearance
  • Obsessive calorie counting and fear of certain foods
  • Avoidance of social gatherings involving food
  • Excessive exercising, even when injured or unwell
  • Frequent visits to the bathroom during or right after meals
  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends and family
  • Wearing loose or baggy clothing to hide body shape
  • Expressing feeling fat or overweight despite being underweight

Questions to help screen for eating disorders

If you think that you or someone you know might have an eating disorder, ask the following questions:5,6

  • Do you worry a lot about your weight or body shape?
  • How do you feel about your body? Do you often compare yourself to others?
  • Have you noticed changes in your eating habits, like restriction or binge eating?
  • Do you engage in bingeing and purging?
  • Do you have physical symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, or digestive issues?
  • Have friends or family expressed concern about your eating habits or weight loss?
  • How do you cope with stress, anxiety, or emotions? Does it involve controlling your food intake?

Types of screenings for eating disorders

If the answers to the questions above raise concerns, seek professional help. Healthcare providers can perform screenings to assess whether a person may have an eating disorder. Standard screening methods include:4,7

  • Clinical interviews – Health specialists evaluate a person's eating habits, body image, and emotions.
  • Self-questionnaires – Designed to help people assess their own eating habits, emotions, and thoughts related to food and body image.
  • Body mass index (BMI) calculation – BMI measures your weight in relation to your height. It can suggest a potential eating disorder, but it is not enough to make a diagnosis.
  • Medical exam and lab tests – A physical exam can help find physical signs of malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies, or anemia that could be caused by eating disorders.

Early detection is critical

When it comes to eating disorders, early detection and treatment are critical. If you or a loved one shows warning signs or is at risk of an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also chat online to get help.

To find treatment in your area, visit the online treatment provider database.4,7

Eating disorders are serious health concerns, but they are treatable. Seeking help can lead to a path of healing and recovery.

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