What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

February 27, 2024

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Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, is an eating disorder associated with by a pronounced preoccupation with weight and food intake. Many people with this condition have a distorted view of their bodies, perceiving themselves as overweight despite being significantly underweight.

People with anorexia might adopt unusual eating behaviors as a way to manage feelings of stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem, finding that restricting their food intake provides a semblance of control over their lives.

The disorder impacts more women more than men and typically begins in adolescence. The prevalence of anorexia nervosa among young women aged 15 to 19 has been on the rise every decade since the 1930s.

If you are concerned about anorexia manifestations in yourself or a loved one, this concise guide explores the following issues:

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  • What is anorexia nervosa?
  • What is a defining characteristic of anorexia nervosa?
  • What is the prognosis of anorexia nervosa?

Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, often shortened to anorexia, is a severe mental health condition where individuals severely restrict their food and drink intake. Those affected may establish strict dietary rules, dictating what, when, and where they can eat. This disorder is not limited by age, gender, ethnicity, or background, and while it may result in low body weight, the severity of someone’s illness cannot solely be judged by their weight alone.

Individuals struggling with anorexia often engage in excessive exercise, induce vomiting, or misuse laxatives to eliminate consumed food. Additionally, some may go through periods of binge eating followed by purging, further complicating their relationship with food and their body.

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Anorexia Nervosa Signs and Symptoms

Identifying anorexia involves looking beyond physical appearance, as the disorder extends to mental and behavioral dimensions as well as physical manifestations. Individuals with anorexia might not always appear underweight, though. Those with larger body sizes can also suffer from the condition, although they may face delayed diagnosis due to societal biases. Conversely, being underweight does not automatically imply anorexia either.

Developing an awareness of anorexia nervosa symptoms can help inform timely intervention and appropriate treatment.

Emotional and mental indicators include:

  • Extreme fear of weight gain.
  • Distorted body image and denial of low body weight.
  • Preoccupation with dieting, calories, and food.
  • Persistent feelings of being overweight.
  • Avoidance or fear of specific foods.
  • High levels of self-criticism and a need for control.
  • Mood swings, including irritability, depression, and thoughts of self-harm.

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Altering eating patterns, such as peculiar food arrangements or avoiding meals.
  • Avoiding certain foods or entire food groups suddenly.
  • Expressing constant concerns about being “fat.”
  • Engaging in purging behaviors or using diet aids excessively.
  • Habitually exercising to an extreme degree.
  • Preparing meals for others without eating.
  • Wearing baggy clothes to conceal body shape and combat cold.
  • Isolating from social interactions and activities.

Physical signs include:

  • Noticeable weight loss or failure to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Physical repercussions of malnutrition, including dizziness, fatigue, and cardiovascular issues.
  • Symptoms related to starvation – cold intolerance, menstrual irregularities, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Signs of deteriorating physical health like muscle weakening, skin and hair problems, and slowed healing.

Understanding these diverse signs of anorexia is vital for recognizing the disorder in oneself or others, emphasizing the need for professional help to address both the physical and psychological aspects of the condition. What causes anorexia nervosa, then?

What Is the Cause of Anorexia Nervosa?

The causes of anorexia and other eating disorders are multifaceted and not entirely understood. However, a blend of genetic predispositions, psychological factors, and environmental influences is believed to contribute to their development.

Factors implicated in the onset of anorexia include:

  • Environment and culture: Societal pressures and cultural norms that glorify thinness can play a significant role in fostering anorexia. The association of thinness with success, beauty, and happiness in media and advertising intensifies the drive towards unrealistic body ideals.
  • Peer pressure: For young people especially, the influence of peers can be significant. Bullying, teasing, or criticism about weight or appearance can trigger or exacerbate issues with body image and eating behaviors.
  • Genetics: Studies indicate that genetics account for about 50% to 80% of the predisposition to eating disorders. Having a close relative with an eating disorder markedly increases the risk. Beyond this, alterations in brain chemistry – particularly in the reward system and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine – might influence eating habits, mood, and self-control.
  • Emotional health: Traits such as perfectionism, impulsiveness, and strained relationships can erode self-esteem and self-perception, making someone more susceptible to anorexia.
  • Peer pressure: For young people especially, the influence of peers can be significant. Bullying, teasing, or criticism about weight or appearance can trigger or worsen issues with body image and eating behaviors.

Eating disorders like anorexia don’t have a single cause, though. For many, what starts as an unhealthy method of coping can evolve into persistent disordered eating behaviors. As with all aspects of anorexia, this does not happen to everyone who experiences this disorder.

What Type of Disorder Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is classified as an eating disorder, characterized by a distorted body image and an extreme fear of gaining weight, leading those with this condition to restrict their food intake severely.

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder that involves both psychological and physical aspects and can have severe health consequences. Call 844-759-0999 for immediate assistance if anorexia is impacting the life of you or a loved one.


What is the definition of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that’s characterized by a chronic fear of gaining weight, leading to restricted food intake, an extremely low body weight, and an obsessive desire to be even thinner.

What is anorexia treatment like?

Treatment for anorexia involves a comprehensive approach that includes nutritional counseling, psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and medical monitoring. Medications may be used to treat co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.

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Get Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa at Connections

If you or someone that you care about needs treatment for eating disorders like anorexia, we can help you at Connections Mental Health in Southern California.

All eating disorders are unique and everyone has different requirements. We account for this by creating highly personalized treatment plans that enable each individual to address issues involving disordered eating in the most effective way for them.

By choosing to engage with inpatient treatment at Connections, you can expect to improve your overall well-being and restore everyday functioning, even if anorexia nervosa is creating complications in your life.

We admit just six people at one time, providing you with the benefits of peer support without compromising the personalized attention you will receive.

Call 844-759-0999 today and start fighting back against anorexia tomorrow with the guidance of experienced and compassionate mental health professionals.

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