Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa

     People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, often exercise excessively, and may force themselves to vomit or use laxatives to lose weight. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. While many people with this disorder die from complications associated with starvation, others die of suicide.


     Anorexia usually begins during the teen years or young adulthood. It is more common in females but is also seen in males. The disorder is seen mainly in white women who are high academic achievers and who have a goal-oriented family or personality. They tend to have a history of anxiety and eating disorders as children and are more focused on rules, cultural ideas of health and beauty and pay more attention to their image and appearance. They are often perfectionists and have a negative self-image.
Woman with Anorexia holding plate with tape measure.

What are the symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Symptoms include:

  • Extremely restricted eating
  • Extreme thinness, (emaciation)
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwilling to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Refuse to keep weight at what is considered normal for age and height (15% or more below average weight)
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight


Other symptoms may develop over time, including:

  • Thinning and weakness of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Muscle wasting and weakness with no body fat
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold due to drop in internal body temperature (wearing several layers of clothing to stay warm)
  • Mild anemia leading to lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Brittle hair and nails, growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Dry and yellowish skin, dry mouth
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure
  • Infertility, no period for three or more cycles
  • Confused or slow thinking, along with poor memory or judgment
  • Depression



What are Some Common Behaviors Seen in Anorexic Individuals?

     People with anorexia may severely limit the amount of food they eat or eat and then make themselves throw up. Other behaviors include:

  • Cutting food into small pieces or moving them around the plate instead of eating
  • Exercising all the time, even when the weather is bad, they are hurt, or their schedule is busy
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals
  • Refusing to eat around other people
  • Using pills to make themselves urinate (water pills or diuretics), have a bowel movement (enemas and laxatives), or decrease their appetite (diet pills)

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