Overview Of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Definition

Anorexia is a serious disorder that results in starvation, obsession about looks, and extreme exercising to prevent weight gain.

Anorexia is rarely ever just about a patient not liking his or her body. It often stems from emotional issues that manifest in symptomatic behaviors

Those with anorexia suffer from other mental health issues for which they have not yet learned healthy ways to cope. Anorexics will often show signs of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Perfectionistic behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-worth
  • Poor stress management skills

It is also not uncommon to see people who suffer from anorexia have family members who also suffer from anorexia or other eating disorders. Such family members will model restrictive diets, excessive exercise, purging, and starvation.

Causes And Risk Factors Of Anorexia Nervosa

Causes And Risk Factors Of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is rarely ever solely a body image issue.

Most who suffer from anorexia have deep emotional issues that are not properly managed with healthy coping skills.

Anorexia is a complex disorder that affects different types of people for different reasons. Many tend to be mistaken when thinking it develops from a desire to be skinny. It rarely develops as a result of one individual issue, like body image or weight management. People who suffer from anorexia tend to have trouble coping with different challenges in their lives. This struggle to cope results in the symptoms of anorexia. Common causes tend to revolve around environment, mental health , biology, and genetics. Such common causes include:


Stress. Stress plays a major role in the onset of anorexia. The Stress can come from social pressure, cultural expectations, and pressure to perform professionally or academically. Many people with anorexia tend to struggle to cope with stress. This struggle can result in the need to maintain a sense of control. This results in excessive exercising and limiting consumption of food.

Social and Societal Expectations. Social and societal pressure to act and look a certain way contributes to the onset of poor body image. While body image is not the sole contributing factor, it does play a role in the onset of anorexia. With the pressure put on people to look and act a certain way, people can tend to develop symptoms. These behaviors are closely related to self-esteem and self-image.

Family Pressure. Many people with anorexia have strict expectation placed on them to look, act, and perform a certain way. This pressure and criticism from family members serves as a major contributing factor to the onset of anorexia. The desire for acceptance and approval from family members and peers can cause anxiety that results in symptomatic behavior.

Mental Health

Anxiety. Suffering from anxiety is a major reason why many develop anorexia. Those who suffer from anorexia tend to have a difficult time with not feeling in control. This may cause a person to seek a sense of control through restricting dieting and pushing the body past its limits. The anxious tendencies also will manifest in a need for perfectionism. This will also cause symptomatic behavior that will result in anorexia.

Trauma and/or Abuse. It is not uncommon for a person to develop anorexia as a means to cope with a traumatic event. Those who have suffered from trauma or abuse, especially of a sexual nature, are at risk for developing anorexia.

Depression. Depression can cause anorexia as it serves as a means to cope with the depressed mood. Those who are depressed will feel a number of depressed feelings and urges. Feelings like guilt, shame, anger, frustration, and a loss of control, can all contribute to symptomatic behavior. A person who is depressed may also experience a diminished appetite, and may find comfort in the control over eating habits.


Genetics. Genetics play a major factor in many cases of anorexia. Those with family members who have anorexia are at high risk to also suffer from anorexia. This can be due not only to genetics, but also modeling symptomatic behavior from a young age.

Hormones. Hormones may also play a role in the onset of anorexia. Many suffer from anorexia as a result of hormonal imbalances. If hormones are a contributing factor to the onset of anorexia, it is important to seek attention from a physician.

Symptoms And Health Risks Of Anorexia Nervosa

Symptoms And Health Risks Of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is not solely an issue with body image.

People with anorexia tend to have emotional issues and poor coping skills to manage those emotional issues.

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa can be intense, and can cause serious damage to the body.

People who suffer from anorexia nervosa will exhibit physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms. These symptoms will be strong and withstanding. They will cause a great deal of distress for the patient. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Preoccupation or obsession with mirrors
  • Excessive exercising
  • Crying spells
  • Irritability
  • Compulsive behaviors or rituals
  • Impulsive or erratic behavior
  • Avoidance of the topic of eating or food
  • Dressing in layers
  • Preoccupation with counting calories or fat content

Physical Symptoms

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Bad breath
  • Hair loss
  • Yellowing skin
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Brittle nails
  • Fatigue
  • Easily bruising
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Dizzy spells
  • Dehydration
  • Fainting

Emotional Symptoms

  • Sensitivity to criticism or comments about weight
  • Mood swings
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Grief

The deprivation of nutrients that comes from not eating properly and over-exercising causes the body to slowly shut down, causing major health consequences.

Health risks of anorexia include:

  • Low body weight
  • Hair loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fine hair growth throughout the body
  • Discoloration of the skin and nails
  • Lack of menstrual cycle

Medical Consequences Of Anorexia Nervosa

Medical Consequences Of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious mental health disorder that has the potential to be fatal.

Approximately 10% of American anorexics die of complications per year.

Anorexia nervosa is not only a mental health disorder, but also a serious medical condition that has severe consequences.

If anorexia nervosa is not properly treated it can have devastating effects on the mind and body. Such medical consequences include:


The main cause of the medical consequences seen in cases of anorexia is malnutrition. A person with anorexia will starve himself or herself in effort to feel a sense of control over their bodies. They will perceive themselves to be ugly or overweight even though they have a very low body weight. As they starve themselves they do not get the nutrition they need to be healthy and happy people.

The malnutrition will cause depression, anxiety, and fatigue. It will also cause the body to begin eating its muscle and fat storage to make up for the nutrition it is not getting from food. Malnutrition affects bone density, muscle tone, and the body’s immune system. Malnutrition will play a significant role in each of the following medical consequences.

Low blood pressure

People with anorexia will have low blood pressure. Blood pumps through the body because of the heart. The heart is a muscle. Blood pressure drops if the body does not receive enough energy to keep the heart pumping at a healthy pace. This will result in fatigue, low body temperature, and lightheadedness. It also puts the patient at risk for heart failure.


Anorexia also causes people to develop osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the weakening of the bones in your body. This happens when the body does not receive enough calcium. Osteoporosis is a serious condition that can cause fractures of the bones in the body. Conditions of osteoporosis can be severe. In severe conditions something as simple as a cough can break ribs.


Anemia is a condition in which the cells in your blood are not being produced effectively. This causes a low blood cell count, which prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. Oxygen is carried through the body on blood cells. If you have a low blood cell count you will not get enough oxygen to your brain and other organs.


Once your body reaches a low body weight you will stop getting your period. This is called Amenorrhea. Your body’s ability to produce and regulate hormones is affected when you are underweight and malnourished. The absence of periods can be reversed if addressed early. However, the more time that goes by the higher the chances of permanent infertility.

Kidney damage

Anorexia also causes severe, long-term damage to the kidneys. When the body is not getting enough nutrition the kidneys cannot function properly. Anorexia causes deficits in electrolytes, potassium, and proteins. These deficits cause the kidneys to stop working properly. This is serious because kidneys are essential to bodily functioning. Kidney damage can cause kidney failure, which will ultimately lead to death.

Warning Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a very serious issue for someone to live with.

People who suffer from anorexia will engage in harmful behaviors to maintain a sense of control.

Patients do not realize how severely their health is being affected by their behavior.

Warning signs of anorexia that include:

  • Having a family member who also suffers from Anorexia Nervosa
  • Binging (Eating an excessive amount of food in a short amount of time) and purging (Inducing vomiting)
  • Obsession with calorie content of foods
  • Avoiding social events or gatherings that involve eating
  • Excessive exercise
  • Covering up body with baggy clothes
  • Irritability, especially when confronted with concerns or comments about eating habits or weight
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Belief that they are overweight
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Only eating in private
  • Thinning hair
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Fatigue

Treatment For Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a severe mental illness that, if not treated, has the potential to take over the life of the patient.

It is imperative that a professional addresses emotional and medical issues of anorexia.

Only 33.8% of people who suffer from anorexia in the United States are receiving treatment (NIMH).

It is important to consult your doctor with any concerns or issues about your weight, emotional issues, or changes in appetite. He or she will be able to help you take the first steps to getting help and saving your life.

If anorexia is left untreated, it can cause serious and sometimes fatal consequences. It is possible to die from anorexia, and the longer it takes to get proper treatment the higher the risk of death and permanent damage to the brain and body. With the help of mental health professionals we have learned how to best treat anorexia. When treating anorexia it is important to treat not only the symptoms, but also the underlying causes of the onset of the symptoms.

Treatment of anorexia often involves several different forms of attention. Depending on individual circumstances, each patient will be different. Some will be open to treatment, while others will deny a problem. It is very difficult for a person who suffers from anorexia to take the necessary steps to get better. Treatment of anorexia requires patience, persistence, and a routine.

Treatment of anorexia often involves a number of different modalities, including:

Individual Therapy. Psychotherapeutic techniques are used to treat a case of anorexia. With psychotherapy, the patient works to change patterns of thinking and behaving to promote healthy eating and coping with emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be especially helpful in achieving this goal.

Group Therapy. Group therapy is often incorporated into a patient’s treatment. Group therapy allows patients to feel supported by each other as they go through similar struggles in treatment.

Family Therapy. It is important for family members of the patient to also get therapy. This helps the family members understand how the condition developed and how to address it at home. It also helps the patient feel secure in feeling understood by family members. Often families work through struggles with the patient, as she learns more about her condition. Family therapy helps the patient learn how to express himself or herself in a healthy, secure way.

Nutrition Counseling. Treatment of Anorexia typically involves a nutritionist. A nutritionist helps ensure that the patient is progressing to maintain a normal body weight. He or she will also help by educating the patient about healthy eating and coping habits.

Medication. In certain cases medication may be used to help treat anorexia. Medications like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) will be used. The purpose of these medications is to help control the mental and emotional issues that contribute to the symptomatic behavior. Some medications also help with sleep issues and appetite stimulation.

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