Anorexia Nervosa

Are you dieting healthy or are you anorexic?

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. There are three main factors of anorexia. The first factor is a significant fear of gaining weight. The second factor is self-starvation. The last factor is distorted body image. Those with anorexia who are underweight might look in the mirror and see a person who needs to lose weight. An individual who is suffering from anorexia is obsessed with losing weight so much to the point that the individual's health is compromised. The name anorexia nervosa "comes from two Latin words that mean nervous inability to eat" (Tish, 2013, p.215).
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Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

There are several signs and symptoms that are related to anorexia nervosa. These signs and symptoms can be broken into three different categories.

Food behavior

  • extreme dieting- restricted diet consisting of very low-calorie foods
  • deception- lying to others about eating, lying to yourself so that you will not eat
  • obsession with food- food is always on your mind, avid cooker
  • rituals- rituals involving food, not eating in public, spitting out chewed up food
  • nutritional obsession- calculating every portion size and breaking every meal down into calories, carbs, fats, etc.

    Body image

  • extreme weight loss/loss of muscle- lose too much weight, underweight, very skinny with no muscle
  • inaccurate perception- you feel fat even though you are underweight
  • obsession with body image- you are constantly weighing yourself, you hate seeing the scale increase, regularly criticize yourself on how your clothes fit
  • denial- you deny that you are underweight, you do things to make it appear that you are not severely underweight such as wearing clothing that is too large for you

    Medically related

  • diarrhea
  • low pulse rate
  • kidney failure
  • self-induced vomiting
  • tooth erosion
  • infertility
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • seizures
  • swollen glands

Do not wait until it is too late. If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms you should contact your doctor immediately.
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What causes anorexia nervosa?

There are multiple causes of anorexia nervosa. Heredity, social, psychological, and biological factors all play a role in the development of anorexia nervosa.


Although small, the role that heredity plays as a cause of anorexia nervosa is one that has been proven through different studies. One study shows that a person who has a close relative that is suffering from anorexia nervosa has an increased likelihood of that person developing the disorder (Davidson, 2013, p.54).


Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa tend to come from families that are overprotective or dysfunctional (Duval et al., 2011, para. 8). This causes the person to feel the need to be in control of his or her body weight. A person might be teased by a family member about his or her weight which can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa. Certain life events can also trigger the development of anorexia nervosa. For example, "moving, starting a new school, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and entering puberty can all cause anorexic behavior" (Davidson, 2013, p.54).


One psychological factor that can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa is personality type. For example, those who are perfectionists may expect to have a "perfect" body image. Anorexia can also stem from a person that has a poor sense of their own self-worth (Davidson, 2013, p.54).


Biological factors mostly involving brain function play a role in anorexia nervosa. The area of the brain that controls appetite and pleasure is said to be affected by abnormal neurotransmitter activity (Davidson, 2013, p.54). Another biological factor involves the stomach and how it functions. Some research has shown that individuals who suffer from anorexia nervosa tend to have stomachs that empty slower than a person who does not have anorexia nervosa.

Treatment options for anorexia

One treatment option involves cognitive-behavioral therapy. In cognitive-behavioral therapy a rewards system is used. For example, if a person gains weight he or she will be rewarded. This is a positive type of reinforcement to encourage the person to see gaining weight as being a good or positive thing. Relaxation techniques might also be used when treating anorexia nervosa. When an anorexic person is about to eat food the person might become very anxious. Relaxation techniques can help the person to reduce the anxiety that is experienced before the person is about to eat food. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a proven treatment method. Research has shown that "cognitive-behavioral therapy can lead to weight gains and reductions in symptoms" (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p.357).

Another treatment method involves the use of medications. One such medication that may be prescribed to an individual who is suffering from anorexia nervosa is olanzapine. Olanzapine is an antipsychotic drug that is used to assist a person who is suffering from anorexia nervosa in gaining weight (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, p.359). Under severe circumstances a person may have to be treated by medical staff at a hospital. A person may need to be treated at the hospital in order to "interrupt weight loss; stop the cycle of vomiting, exercising and/or laxative abuse" (Davidson, 2013, p.55).

If you or a loved one is suffering from anorexia nervosa you can call the National Eating Disorders Association's toll-free hotline at 800-931-2237 or you can visit their website which can be found at (Smith and Segal, 2014, para. 29).
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Common myths or misperceptions about anorexia

  1. Those who have anorexia are doing it for attention. Anorexia is in no way used as an attention-getter. Anorexia is a real disorder that can be life-threatening.
  2. Healthy dieting is a cause of anorexia. A person can have a healthy diet and not develop anorexia. A person who eats healthy might not want to gain weight, but the person is able to maintain a healthy weight. Those who have healthy diets are not malnourished.
  3. If a person is really thin or skinny the person has anorexia. There are a variety of other reasons as to why a person might be thin or skinny. Some people are thin due to the genetic traits that they inherited. Others might be thin or skinny because of an illness. These individuals will not refuse to eat a decent amount of food and they are not obsessed with their self-image.
  4. If a person has anorexia that means that the person never feels hungry. Individuals who have anorexia may act like they are not hungry, but deep down inside, those individuals are starving. This is one of the causes for those with anorexia to always think about food because they know that they will not be eating food. Individuals who have anorexia will not allow themselves to eat so they will sit there all day and think about food.
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Davidson, T. (2013). Anorexia Nervosa. In K. Key (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 52-57). Gale. Retrieved from

DuVal, J., Lyster-Mensh, L. C., & Silber, T. J. (2011, November-December). Anorexia nervosa: patient and family-centered care. Pediatric Nursing, 37(6), 331+. Retrieved from

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

Smith, M. and Segal, J. (2014). Anorexia nervosa. Retrieved from

Tish, D. (2013). Anorexia Nervosa. In B. Narins (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health (3rd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 215-220). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from