Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa and How To Get Help

No matter your age, gender, or weight,
anorexia does not discriminate.

If you're struggling with anorexia,
you are not alone and the challenges you are facing are valid.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and food. Primarily, people suffering from anorexia often experience excessive weight loss and self-starvation or a refusal to eat the amount of food required to maintain the demands of their bodies resulting in malnutrition. Often, people who have also been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa may also be diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, causing them to desire a body much different than their own.

Anorexia’s typical onset age is around 17 years old, and folks between the ages of 14 and 25 tend to be at the highest risk of developing this disorder. Usually, our first exposure to this disorder is through the media, which often reinforces harmful stereotypes about who develops an eating disorder and what it looks like. Despite this, anorexia can happen to anyone of any gender, weight, race, class, age, or sexual orientation. 

What causes anorexia?

While an exact cause is unknown, a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors can cause someone to develop anorexia. Anorexia nervosa is also a psychological disorder, which means people who develop this disorder tend to have certain personality types, such as perfectionism, neuroticism, obsessive-compulsive, and low self-esteem. Recently, studies have reported a connection between body image issues and popular culture.

Other common causes:

  • Broken relationships
  • Stress
  • Exposure to new situations
  • Loss
  • Genes
  • Extreme dieting
  • Abuse and trauma
  • Peer pressure
  • Crisis
  • Family history of addictive personalities

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia

Everyone copes differently with their eating disorder and what they do to make themselves feel better. However, it’s essential to take these warning signs seriously. This eating disorder is highly addictive and deadly.

As reported in MEDA (multi-service eating disorders association), “AN [Anorexia Nervosa] is a major cause of death among adolescents and young adults. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with AN are estimated to be at ten times greater risk of dying compared to same-aged peers.”

Remember, not every skinny person is dealing with an eating disorder, and people of all body types can struggle with anorexia. It’s best not to make assumptions.

Physical Symptoms

Please note that not everyone will experience every one of these symptoms; however, they are common enough to mention.

  • Constipation
  • Development of lanugo; soft, thin hair covering the body
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Dry skin
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irregular or nonexistent menstrual cycles
  • Thinning hair

Emotional/Behavioral Symptoms

Some people with anorexia nervosa may show off their weight loss with revealing or tight-fitting clothing, but not everyone is comfortable showing off their bodies. Another common practice is to wear baggy clothing to cover up the amount of weight they have lost or to stay warm (less body fat means less insulation for body temperature regulation). Sometimes, people wear oversized clothes in shame of their bodies. 

Other signs include:

  • Eating very little, if at all
  • Using ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, or hiding food
  • Withdrawal from social situations, especially those involving food
  • Lying about having eaten already or how much they’ve eaten
  • Body-checking, obsessively weighing themselves or looking at their body in the mirror to criticize themselves
  • Frequently comments on or obsesses over food, calories, and fat
  • Forgetfulness or lack of concentration
  • Depression
  • Excessive exercise or strict adherence to an exercise program
  • Only eating alone, sometimes behind closed doors away from others
  • Excluding specific types of food, such as carbohydrates or foods high in saturated fat
  • Ignores hunger cues
  • Replaces meals with sugar-free gum or other “safe foods”

How is Anorexia Nervosa Different From Other Eating Disorders?

Anorexia nervosa is similar to other eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa and binge eating, in that it is common to have a distorted body image and altered eating habits. Even if all the evidence points to the contrary, a person with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder will convince themselves that they are overweight. No matter how much weight they lose, they will always think they have to lose more.

However, anorexia is different from the other two because of the severe restriction of food consumed. People suffering from anorexia may go through periods of binge eating or purging, but these episodes may occur less often than people suffering from a different disorder.

How To Get Help

If you think you or a friend might have any of these symptoms, there are options available to aid in reversing the disorder. Besides therapy—both group and personal—there are other resources out there, such as eating disorder harm reduction, peer support groups, and involving your family or friends in your plan to maintain healthy eating patterns. Going to an eating disorder treatment center may also be necessary. 

Your body image may not be the only issue causing the disorder. Anorexia nervosa is a psychological condition, which means treatment from a mental health professional may be necessary to address the root causes of the disorder, not just the effects. The sooner a person receives treatment, the easier it will be to recover. Additionally, how others see us can take a toll on how we see ourselves. It is vital to surround ourselves with people who support us in our recovery.

What are your thoughts on how media and popular culture play into our body image? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

 

Information for this article was provided by:
Acknowledgments: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us. ReachOut.com

About Youth Era

Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.

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