Anorexia Nervosa

By: Teddie Cunningham

When you look in the mirror do you see yourself as fat even though you are not?

Do you think you are fat even though others tell you that you are not? Do you think about losing weight all the time? Do you have eating rituals, such as chewing very slowly or cutting your food into very tiny pieces? Are you only happy when you are losing weight and are you afraid to gain even an ounce? If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have Anorexia Nervosa (NA), and you need to seek help (Obadina, 2014).


There are a number of myths about AN, don’t believe them. AN is not a way to get attention, it is a life-threatening disorder. You will grow out of it, untreated AN will become harder to recover from. You can't die from AN, yes you can (Myths, 2014). Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder which can cause serious health problems and even lead to death. By existing on little or no food over longer periods of time, you are starving your body of the nutrients it needs to function. Starvation can lead to heart and digestive problems, osteoporosis, hair loss, premature aging, and reproductive damage. If you use laxatives or purge to help control your weight, you can cause damage to your stomach, esophagus, and teeth. It can also cause high cholesterol and blood pressure and diabetes. Starving yourself can also cause psychological problems, such as irrational thinking, the inability to concentrate, depression, and panic attacks (Obadina, 2014).

Characteristics & Causes

Three key characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa are: a compulsion to be thin, uncontrollable fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p. 339). There are two types of Anorexia Nervosa: restricting type and binge/purge type. Those with restricting type eat little or no food and exercise excessively. Those with binge/purge type binge eat and then purge by either vomiting or by using laxatives or diuretics (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p. 340).

Anorexia Nervosa is not always about food or weight. It may be a symptom of other, deeper issues, a way to express emotional pain or have control over life. Risk factors that may contribute to the development of Anorexia Nervosa are depression, being abused or neglected as a child, childhood obesity, control issues, not being able to express emotions and others (Obadina, 2014). There is no known, single cause of Anorexia Nervosa. There are a number of factors that may cause Anorexia Nervosa.

Genetics is one factor, eating disorders generally runs in families. Other biological factors are hormonal changes during puberty that may contribute to developing an eating disorder. Abnormalities in the structure and/or functioning in the hypothalamus portion of the brain have been seen in those with Anorexia Nervosa (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p. 350). Problems with neural circuitry may allow you to ignore hunger signals and limits the motivation to eat. Altered activity in the anterior insula found in those with AN may cause symptoms such as a distorted body image, the lack of motivation to change, and the inability to respond to hunger (Kaye, 2014). Culture and social pressure can also contribute to the development of eating disorders. The pressure to be thin brought about by the media has caused unrealistic views of what is beautiful and pressures you to be dissatisfied with your own body (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p. 351).

What to do and where to seek help.

You do not have to let Anorexia Nervosa control your life. There are treatments available. Cognitive-behavior therapy can help you learn how to change your eating behavior. Psychotherapy can help you to discover underlying emotional problems that are contributing to the disorder (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p. 357). Antidepressants can help to reduce the symptoms that are associated with Anorexia Nervosa (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p. 359).

If you think you have an eating disorder take the first step and talk to your doctor. Your doctor can refer you to a team of specialists who can treat you. When picking specialists in the field of eating disorders, chose a therapist who primarily treats Anorexia Nervosa. The therapist should be a licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. A psychiatrist should have a medical degree and a license in the state where they practice. A registered dietitian should also be a member or your treatment team (Ekern, 2012).

You can obtain more information about Anorexia Nervosa at the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders at

References/ Links

Ekern, J. (2012, May 2). Eating Disorder Therapists & Specialists Directory. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from

Kaye, W. (2014). Eating Disorders: Understanding Anorexia Nervosa. Psychiatric Times, 31(5). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from

Myths About Anorexia Nervosa. (2014). Retrieved December 14, 2014, from

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal Psychology (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.

Obadina, S. (2014). Quality of Life in Anorexia Nervosa: A Review of the Literature. British Journal of School Nursing, 9(9). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from