Eating Disorders Home > Eating Disorders Diagnosis

With eating disorders, diagnosis may take a long time -- especially if a person is managing to maintain a normal body weight. However, there are early signs (such as compulsive exercising or an obsession with food) that may indicate that someone has an eating disorder. Diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and other conditions may have symptoms that are similar to those of an eating disorder, so a doctor will consider these before making an eating disorder diagnosis.

An Overview of Diagnosing Eating Disorders

Before making an eating disorder diagnosis, the healthcare provider will ask a number of questions about the person's:


  • Current symptoms
  • Medical conditions
  • Current medications
  • Family history of medical conditions
  • Eating history.


He or she will also perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. If the healthcare provider suspects an eating disorder, certain tests may be recommended. Once this information is collected, the healthcare provider will use specific criteria to determine if the person has an eating disorder.


Criteria for Diagnosing Eating Disorders

Each type of eating disorder has a specific set of criteria that is used for diagnosis.


A person is usually diagnosed with anorexia nervosa if he or she:

  • Weighs at least 15 percent below what is considered normal for others of the same height and age
  • Misses at least three consecutive menstrual cycles (if a female of childbearing age)
  • Has an intense fear of gaining weight
  • Refuses to maintain the minimal normal body weight
  • Believes that he or she is overweight, although, in reality, this person is dangerously thin.
A person is usually diagnosed with bulimia nervosa if the following are present:
  • At least two binge/purge cycles a week, on average, for at least three months
  • Lacks control over his or her eating behavior
  • Seems obsessed with his or her body shape and weight.
A person is usually diagnosed with binge-eating disorder if the following are present:
  • At least two binge-eating episodes a week, on average, for six months
  • Lacks control over his or her eating behavior.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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