Anorexia Nervosa

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on October 22nd, 2018

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (anorexia) is an eating disorder that affects millions of people in the United States. Anyone at any age can suffer from anorexia, but most people with anorexia are women, aging from adolescence to early adulthood. Anorexia is a serious disorder that results in starvation, obsession about looks, and extreme exercising to prevent weight gain.

It is a common misconception that anorexia has to do with a person not liking the way he or she looks. In most cases, anorexia stems from emotional issues that manifest in symptomatic behavior. Patients project their emotional issues onto their looks to cope. This means that they take their pain on the inside and take it out on how they look on the outside.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

People who suffer from anorexia will exhibit physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms. These symptoms will be strong and withstanding. Symptoms are oppressive and will cause a great deal of distress for the affected person.

Symptoms and warning signs of anorexia 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

Causes of Anorexia Nervosa

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

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

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

Other factors, such as biological predispositions and environmental influences, will also contribute to the onset of anorexia.

Treatment Options for Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a mental illness that, if not treated, has the potential to take over the life of the affected person. Some cases of anorexia can be fatal without proper intervention and treatment. It is imperative that a professional addresses emotional and medical issues of anorexia. It is important to consult with your doctor or mental health professional if you have any concerns or issues about your weight, emotional issues, or changes in appetite. You doctor or mental health professional will be able to help you take the first step to getting help and saving your life.

Treatment options for anorexia include:

  • Individual Therapy. The goal of individual therapy is to change the patterns of thinking and behaving to promote healthy coping skills.
  • Group Therapy. Group therapy provides support of others who are going through similar struggles as the patient.
  • Family Therapy. Families participate in therapy to learn healthy ways to support the patient.
  • Nutrition Counseling. Nutrition counseling teaches the patient about healthy eating and coping skills.
  • Medication. The purpose of these medications is to help control the mental and emotional issues that contribute to the symptomatic behavior.
  • Residential Rehabilitation. In serious cases, professionals may recommend long-term residential rehabilitation. Here, the patient will receive intensive care for recovery.

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