Anorexia symptoms graphic

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

In our world today where everyone wants to be a celebrity, an athlete or a model, it is always a requirement to look good in public. Unfortunately, most people equate looking good to being thin. This has brought a major impact in the mindset of people with all the media hype of skinny females as being models of good health. Some people become so obsessed in becoming thin that they sometimes starve themselves to death. Unknowingly, these people might already be suffering from a disorder called Anorexia Nervosa.need to be thin

Anorexia Nervosa is a type of psychological eating disorder. An anorexic person will go far beyond the dieting process, which at first will lead to weight loss, before they will discover that they have lost more than their ideal body weight. They have the drive to be thinner, and they have this irrational fear of gaining even just a little amount of weight. Other than consistent withholding of food intake to almost starvation with excessive exercising, they will also have the tendency to use diuretics, laxatives, enemas just to lower their weight. This is their means of having a sense of control over their body, and it becomes an obsession or more like an addiction to weight loss.

More often than not, those people who suffer this type of eating disorder belong to the female gender, but this does not mean that males are exempted. Years ago, it was common during the adolescent years but as of today, even younger children and adults are at risk. While it can affect other races, most of those who are at risk are Caucasians. Middle and upper socioeconomic groups are also prone to suffering from this disorder. Other risk factors are those who work as models, athletes, actors, and dancers.

What are the causes of Anorexia?

causes of anorexia

There is no definite cause of anorexia nervosa. Most often, it is the pressure and influence of the media that being thin is attractive. This means that it may be because of the lack of self-confidence that leads to poor self-image. Some experts, however, claim that this could be a genetic problem. It is believed that the part of the brain that controls metabolic functions, which is called the hypothalamus is affected in an anorexic person. Other research suggests that it is due to chemical imbalances of the brain’s neurotransmitter.

How do doctors diagnose Anorexia?

Because this is more of a psychological disorder, it can be very difficult to diagnose. Most patients will deny that they are anorexic and will not seek medical attention. When complications have developed, this is the only time that the actual diagnosis is made. In this case, the doctor will have to obtain information from the parents of the patient and friends to identify the extent of weight loss.

There are four criteria set under the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose anorexia. First, the client will refuse to maintain the expected normal weight for age and height. Second, they have an irrational fear of gaining weight, and they think they are becoming fat, even if they are below the normal body weight. Third, they have distorted self-perception. And lastly, they have amenorrhea (they have missed their menstrual cycle for consecutive three times).

In addition, anorexics binge and purge. They will induce vomiting or use laxatives and diuretics. While some will almost starve themselves without binging or purging.

Symptoms of Anorexia

Clients with anorexia have severe weight loss leading to depression and self-isolation. Since their psychological aspect is affected, they become irritable and get upset easily. They tend to withdraw from social interactions. Anorexics have sleep disturbances, so they feel fatigued during the day. Less food intake can lead to decreased concentration and attention.

Anorexics are obsessed with food often collecting recipes and hoarding food. In addition, they tend to be perfectionists. They try to please everybody, going beyond what is expected. When their family pressures them to look good, they may over-exercise.

On the physical aspect, complications due to starvation could lead to the following problems:

  • Slow heart rate, irregular heart rhythm and low blood pressure.
  • Abdominal pain and constipation.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle with absence of menstrual periods.
  • Low blood potassium; increased or decreased urination.
  • Increased risk for fracture because of the thinning of bones.
  • Loss of essential amounts of electrolytes due to self-induced vomiting.
  • Anemia or decreased red blood cells.
  • Dry and flaky skin
  • Fine hairs seen on the face, back, arms, and legs.
  • Hair loss.
  • Brittle nails.
  • Frequent sore throat, tainted teeth and eroded dental enamel due to frequent vomiting.

Can Anorexia be Treated ?

Definitely, in fact it can be treated without having to admit the person to the hospital, unless there are medical complications. The malnutrition may have to be treated in severe cases through intravenous feeding or a tube. The patient should gain at least 1-3 pounds per week. A team composed of a nutritionist, mental-health-care provider, and a medical-health-care provider is needed to provide care for the patient.

Counseling is also available for anorexics. Some need group and family therapy which has proven effective in treating anorexia nervosa. They are taught to understand more about self-control and self-perception. Either way, the main focus of therapy is to attain a healthy life in both physical and psychological aspects. In terms of medications, some will have to be treated for their compulsions. Anti-depressant drugs have shown remarkable success in helping control mood and anxiety symptoms.

Anorexia Nervosa: when left untreated can lead to suicide. Other dangers posed by anorexia are death due to medical complications. Early detection and treatment can avoid such problems. While some may have relapses, it is important also that individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa have support from their families and friends to ensure successful treatment.

If you have time watch the PBS special on Eating Disorders below.

Written by Ronald Uy, RN

© 2011 H.I.C. Digestive Health


Anorexia. Retrieved October 17, 2009 from Mama’

Eating Disorders. Retrieved October 17, 2009 Something Fishy:

Anorexia Nervosa. Retrieved October 18, 2009 from

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