What is Anorexia Nervosa?

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Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by substantially low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted perception of one’s weight. People with anorexia will severely limit the amount of food and types of food that they eat to avoid gaining weight. They may also try to limit their weight by misusing diet aids, weight-loss supplements, or exercising excessively.

Anorexia does not discriminate by gender, age, sexual orientation, race, body type, etc. In many cases, anorexia manifests as an extremely unhealthy way to cope with other mental health problems.

As an eating disorder with very serious implications, anorexia can take over one’s life and  severely alter eating habits. It can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you or someone you love is struggling with anorexia, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

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Diagnostic Criteria

To be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (or DSM-5), the following criteria must be met:

  1. Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
  2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
  3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.

It’s important to note that even if all of the DSM-5 criteria for anorexia are not met, a serious eating disorder may still be present. If an eating disorder is suspected, it is important to speak with a trained treatment professional.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia

In many cases, it is difficult to recognize that someone is living with anorexia. One does not need to appear emaciated or underweight to have an eating disorder. Potential warning signs of anorexia include:

Physical

  • Fatigue, dizziness, or fainting
  • Dry or yellow skin
  • Thinning hair on head
  • Problems sleeping or insomnia
  • Stomach cramps or constipation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Menstrual irregularities

Behavioral and Emotional

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Obsession with losing weight or maintaining weight
  • Excessive exercise regimen
  • Dressing in layers for warmth or to hide weight loss
  • Refuses to eat certain types of food
  • Frequent mentions of feeling “fat”
  • Denies feeling hungry
  • Cooks meals for others without eating
  • Shows concern about eating in public
  • Withdraws from friends and loved ones and becomes more isolated

Woman with anorexia speaking with therapist

Health Consequences of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation denies the body the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. This causes the body to slow down processes to conserve energy, which may result in serious, or even life-threatening, medical consequences such as:

  • Damage to the brain, heart, and other vital organs
  • Increased risk of illness due to decreased white blood cell count
  • Lower production of hormones, which could lead to infertility
  • Increased risk of bone damage or broken bones

How We Can Help

The staff at Seeds of Hope at High Focus Centers has the experience and expertise to help anyone living with an eating disorder. We utilize a variety of evidence-based treatment models which are paired to address the client’s unique needs. If you or someone you love is suffering from anorexia nervosa, get in touch and have a friendly, non-judgmental conversation with our team. Start your path to a healthier life today.