How to Tell if Someone is Anorexic

Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening condition, affecting individuals who are usually suffering from an extremely low body weight. When someone is anorexic, they have an eating-related psychological disorder.

There are two basic methods that health care providers use to determine if somebody is anorexic.

How to Tell if Someone is Anorexic

Physicians rely on using the Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess whether or not an individual has anorexia. Using a BMI calculator, the doctor enters the patient’s height and weight and the calculator provides a reading that reflects the measure of body fat. If the proportion is too low, anorexia is assumed to be present, and the patient will then usually be referred to a mental health provider for further assessment.

Once they are in the care of a mental health provider, the patient will be assessed using a tool called the SCOFF Questionnaire. It includes the following questions:

  • Do you make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry that you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than 14 pounds in a 3-month period?
  • Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  • Would you say that Food dominates your life?

The SCOFF Questionnaire was designed as an aid in identifying the likelihood of an eating disorder.

While you won’t have access to the same tools as a medical or mental health professional, there are signs you can watch for. Someone who is anorexic can exhibit one or many of the following symptoms:

  • Obsession with counting calories and/or keeping calorie consumption very low
  • Sudden interest in reading and studying food labels
  • Not eating or only eating certain types of food
  • Extensive list of excuses for not eating
  • Leaving the table right after eating to induce purging (vomiting)
  • Repeatedly monitoring fluctuations in weight loss or gain
  • Excessive exercising
  • Adjusting eating and exercise to compensate for a marginal weight gain
  • Frequently checking their body image in the mirror
  • Consuming diet control drugs such as appetite suppressants, diuretics, or laxatives
  • Extreme mood or personality swings (self-doubt, changes to self-esteem)
  • Staying extra busy to avoid time to eat
  • Obsessive eating habits like refusing to eat in public, cutting food into tiny morsels, only eating certain colors or flavors of food

If you suspect someone has anorexia, don’t try to manage their condition without help. Anorexia can be life-threatening. Seeking treatment from a qualified team of individuals who work with eating disorders is the best call to action. A three-prong approach is recommended -help from a medical physician, a nutritionist, and a mental health professional.

A physician can best manage medical conditions that may arise, such as malnutrition, unstable heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance, or amenorrhea. A nutritionist will help with educating patients and their families about normal eating behaviors and will provide supervision of a tailored meal and weight restoration plan. A mental health therapist will help identify the underlying issues that are causing the eating disorder and formulate a plan of action that will address those issues while providing alternative means for coping.