How To Identify Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa

How To Identify Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa

How To Identify Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa - Causes & Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa » Don’t Let Anorexia Nervosa Ruin Your Life Anorexia nervosa is an extremely dangerous eating disorder that results from an overpowering desire to remain thin. Most sufferers are actually underweight but find it difficult to come to terms with reality and are petrified at the thought of gaining even a little bit of weight.

Thoughts about food and what they can and cannot eat rule their life and severely interferes with their daily activities. It is a psychiatric disorder that needs to be diagnosed and dealt with at the earliest to prevent fatalities.

Anorexia nervosa: Criteria for Diagnosis

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM IV) of the American Psychiatric Association, anorexia nervosa can be diagnosed if the patient exhibits the following symptoms: the body weight is less than 85% of normal expected body weight for the person’s height and age; extremely distorted self-image, giving undue importance to body weight to assess self-worth; refusal to accept excessive weight loss and intense fear of gaining weight, and three consecutive missed periods.

Anorexia nervosa can be very difficult to diagnose as the sufferers are usually in denial of their condition. Their problems become obvious to their family and friends only after significant damage has been done. People with anorexia are usually severely malnourished but fail to acknowledge that something is wrong and seldom seek help on their own.

The most common way to diagnose anorexia is to ask screening questions or offer a questionnaire to the sufferer and friends and family. These include questions mainly pertaining to the patient’s medical history and general habits. Medical examinations may also be done to check the condition of the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, thyroid, etc. Blood pressure is also normally monitored along with physical examination of the hair and skin. X-Rays may be called for to check for broken bones and joints as malnutrition can lead to calcium deficiency.


Two types of anorexia nervosa can be distinguished: The Restrictive Type and the Binging and Purging Type. In Restrictive type of anorexia, the patient controls weight by severely restricting their diet and calorie intake. They tend to avoid certain foods as a rule, and only eat very few portions of certain foods.

In the Binging and Purging Type, the patient first binges on food and then either vomits it out or uses laxatives and diuretics. They may also have a tendency to over-exercise to reduce any weight they may have gained by binging.

Who are commonly affected?

Nine out of ten sufferers of anorexia are found to be women. The incidence is higher in teens than in adults and the condition usually arises in the teenage years though occurrence in adulthood is not uncommon.

The disease can affect almost anyone, although more number of cases have been detected in people whose profession demands them to be thin. These include models, actors, ballet dancers, gymnasts, etc.

What are the causes of Anorexia nervosa?

Although no one can say with certainty, some factors tend to lead to anorexia. The glorification of thinness as a desirable trait especially among young women is an important contributing factor towards developing anorexia. Some women seem to associate thinness with self worth and fail to see the real picture of who they truly are.

Anorexia is rarely about food. It is more about self esteem, self worth. The sufferers are usually people who lead a poor quality life due to their own imagined preconceptions about their shortcomings. Anorexia is a way for them to feel in control. An anorexic person does feel hungry, but the ability to resist hunger pangs or control the amount of food they eat gives them a sense of power and control over their lives.

They feel in command at least in one area of their life as they are most probably helpless in most others. They are usually perfectionists and strive for perfection in every sphere of their lives. Thus, they may actually be good at most of their activities including studies but due to their low self esteem, they never feel content with anything including their weight.

As far as genetics is concerned, recent studies have shown that anorexia tends to run in families. Having their mother or a sibling with anorexia increases one’s chances of developing it by as much as ten to fifteen times. An area on chromosome 1 has also been identified that may play a role in predisposing a person to anorexia.

Other risk factors

In addition to increased risk of developing anorexia if you are a female, or in your teens, some other factors may also contribute greatly. One of these is transition. Transition could be in any sphere of life including moving to a new work place or school or locality; loss of a loved one; unexpected illness; break up, etc.

These transitions are often followed by extreme emotion strain and stress. This could act as a trigger to develop anorexia. Positive compliments received when one loses weight may bring on a tendency to lose more. This could eventually turn into an eating disorder like anorexia.

Watching, reading or hearing about thin and famous personalities often causes the mind to associate thinness with popularity. This combined with a predisposition for perfectionism and a desire to look good can prove to be deadly combination leading to anorexia.

Warning signs and symptoms

Even though people with anorexia nervosa try keep away from food as much as they can, surprisingly, it is the only thing on their mind! They become obsessive about the calorie content of the various foods and spend their time collecting recipes, reading up labels on various items, and deciding about the best things they can eat that will not make them fat.

Some of the common symptoms include dieting in spite of being underweight; over exercising even when they are ill or fatigued; avoiding eating around other people and developing certain rituals for eating like breaking up their food into small parts, chewing the food at certain number of times, spitting out food after chewing; constantly assessing themselves in the mirror; hiding one’s true appearance by disguising themselves in loose clothes; social withdrawal; irritability; reduced sex drive, etc.

Physical symptoms include drastic weight loss; fatigue; absence of menstruation; bradycardia (slow heart rate) and low blood pressure; constipation; abnormal blood cell count; insomnia; brittle hair; arrhythmia; intolerance to cold, etc. Bluish or purplish coloration of extremities along with swelling and brittle nails are also common.

How to manage anorexia nervosa?

The first and most crucial step to managing anorexia is to admit to having a problem. This will help the patient open up about their problems to someone they trust. As long as this does not happen, and they live in denial, no amount of help by any outsider can bring about much benefit.

If the person is too frail, they may require immediate hospitalization and administration of glucose and important electrolytes. Once stabilized, the primary goal of treatment is to bring the person back to normal weight. This requires efficient counseling by a dietician about the different kinds of food one needs to eat and the recommended quantities.

It is important to prevent relapse of the condition by keeping the person away from images or people who may again invoke a desire to be ultrathin. A psychotherapist or psychiatrist can help identify the triggers and reasons for anorexia and teach a patient how to effectively deal with them.

Inclusion of the family in the therapy proves extremely useful as the patient gets the positive feeling that she is not alone in her fight against anorexia. She also gets the feeling of being loved and cared for. Joining groups and connecting with co sufferers is also a helpful way to learn to deal with this condition. Cognitive Behavior Therapy has also been found to be very effective in managing anorexia.

As far as medications are concerned, there are no medicines available for anorexia per se, but certain anti depressants and mood stabilizers may be used to help cope better. Yoga and meditation are helpful in reducing stress and promoting a general feeling of well- being which is very helpful for someone suffering from anorexia.


Anorexia has the highest death rate among mental and psychiatric illnesses with around 5% to 20% of sufferers succumbing to it. Most people die due to severe malnutrition but a good percentage of people also take to suicide. The only possible way to prevent anorexia from progressing to such fatal consequences is to identify and deal with it as early as possible.

It is important to inculcate a feeling of self worth in children and teens and foster a positive attitude about themselves and their appearance. It is also equally important to keep them away from pro-anorexia websites and people and media who promote this as a desirable condition.

Some people may make a complete recovery with treatment and support while others may get to the point of managing and coping well with their condition. So if you see any loved one with symptoms of anorexia, try and make professional help available to them and lend your maximum support for you may actually be saving their life in the process.

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