Anorexia Nervosa

What You Need To Know

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

A person with Anorexia Nervosa has not made a "lifestyle" choice, they are actually very unwell and need help. This is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that is far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively. Others with anorexia binge and purge, similar to bulimia. Binge eating involves eating a large amount of food and feeling a "loss of control". Purging behavior involves self induced vomiting, or deliberately misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas to compensate for eating food (Mayoclinic, 2014).

What are the warning signs of anorexia?

No matter how weight is achieved, anorexia has a number of physical, emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms. Seeking help at the first warning sign is much more effective than waiting until the illness is in full swing. If you or someone you know is exhibiting some or a combination of these signs it is vital to seek help and support as soon as possible (Mayoclinic, 2014).

Physical Symptoms

  • Extreme and rapid weight loss
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Absence of menstruation/ decreased libido in men
  • Hair that thins, breaks, or falls out
  • Soft, downy hair covering body
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling cold most of the time
  • Feeling bloated, constipated
  • Irregular heart rhythms/ low blood pressure

Emotional/Behavioral Symptoms

  • Refusal to eat/ denial of hunger
  • Afraid of gaining weight
  • Lying about how much food has been eaten
  • Excessive exercise
  • Flat mood (lack of emotion)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Obsessive rituals around food preparation
  • Depressed mood
  • Eating in private
  • Repetitive behaviors relating to body (repeated weighing, looking in mirror obsessively, and pinching waist or wrists)

So what causes this?

The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown. As with many diseases, it's probably a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors (Mayoclinic, 2014).

Biological: There are many genetic changes that make some people more vulnerable to developing anorexia and it also tends to run in families. It's not specifically clear how your genes could cause anorexia. It may be that some people have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism, sensitivity, and all traits associated with anorexia. There is also some evidence that serotonin - one of the brain chemicals involved in depression - may play a role.

Psychological: Some emotional characteristics may contribute to anorexia. People may have obsessive-compulsive personality traits that make it easier to stick to strict diets and forgo food despite being hungry. They may have an extreme drive for perfectionism, which means they may never think they're thin enough. Some behaviors may sometimes serve as a strategy for dealing with painful emotions or have parents that are overinvested in their achievements and are over controlling and not allow expression of feelings (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Environmental: There are many cultures that emphasizes thinness. The media is splashed with images of thin models and actors. Success and worth are often seen as being associated with being thin. Peer pressure may help fuel the desire to be thin, particularly among young girls.

Eating Disorders: myths vs. facts

Despite increased awareness of anorexia, plenty of misconceptions about eating disorders continue to circulate and confuse the public (, 2014).

Myth #1: Eating disorders mostly affect young Caucasian girls.

Fact: Eating disorders affect people of both genders, in all age groups and of every racial and cultural background. An estimated 10 million American men have an eating disorder at some time in their lives.

Myth #2: Eating disorders are a choice – and for some people, they’re a lifestyle.

Fact: People don’t choose to have an eating disorder. Attempts to be thinner or healthier can turn into obsessive or out-of-control behavior.

Myth #3: Eating disorders are a cry for attention.

Fact: Weight loss from an eating disorder may bring positive attention at first, but that typically changes to negative and unwanted attention as it progresses.

Myth #4: People with eating disorders are punishing their families.

Fact: It’s easy for parents and loved ones to blame themselves when a family member develops an eating disorder, but it is rare for these behaviors to be deliberately hurtful.

Myth #5: You can’t be at a normal weight and have an eating disorder.

Fact: Eating disorders are not solely about weight. They are about how body weight and image affect a person’s self-worth. They are about distorted body images and obsessive thoughts about how to become thinner or avoid weight gain. People of normal weight with eating disorders may actually suffer more, because they don’t receive recognition of their illness from others.

Myth #6: If people with eating disorders would just eat, they would get better.

Fact: Eating disorders are not solely about food. Healthy eating habits are essential to recovery, but eating normally is not the only solution.

Myth #7: Eating disorders are just a teen phase. They will go away if you ignore them.

Fact: While eating disorders generally begin during teen years while identity and independence are being established, they are not a normal part of growing up. Ignoring unhealthy habits can be hazardous.

help is available

Anorexia nervosa can be difficult to overcome. But with treatment, you can gain a better sense of who you are, return to healthier eating habits and reverse some of anorexia's serious complications. Eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan involving medical care and monitoring, psychosocial interventions, nutritional counseling, and , when appropriate, medication management (Mayoclinic, 2014).

In cases of medical complications, where there is severe malnutrition or continued refusal to eat, hospitalization may be needed. There are no medications specifically designed to treat this disorder, however, antidepressants or other psychiatric medications can help treat depression or anxiety that is sometimes associated with anorexia.

The first goal of treatment is getting back to a healthy weight. You can't recover from an eating disorder without restoring an appropriate weight and learning proper nutrition. A psychologist can work with you to develop behavioral strategies to help you return to a healthy weight and a dietitian can offer guidance on a healthy diet to help meet your weight goals. There is also individual therapy, family based therapy, and group therapy that can be beneficial in helping you deal with behavior and thoughts that contribute to anorexia.

If you or someone you know has anorexia, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you help the closer you are to recovery. While your general physician may not be a specialist in eating disorders, they are a "good start" and can refer you to a practitioner that specializes in anorexia.

Further information can be obtained through the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders at:

ANAD helpline (630) 577-1330, operates 9 AM-5 PM Central Time, Monday through Friday and can help you find the treatment to fit your needs. If you prefer email, please contact us through *

my eating disorder through pictures


Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. (2014). Dismantling the common myths of eating disorders. Retrieved August, 4, 2014, from (2014). Diseases and conditions: anorexia nervosa. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from