What is Anorexia Nervosa? 

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that focuses on self starvation and a lack of appetite. A person suffering from anorexia is typically extremely underweight relative to stature, has a fear of gaining weight, is focused primarily on extreme weight loss, and has a distorted body image of himself/herself due to weigh loss. A person suffering from anorexia tends to have a fixation on being thin and may have abnormal eating patterns.

There are two main categories of anorexia: the restrictive type and the binge/purge type. When I was battling my eating disorder, I jumped back and forth between the two. I was very good at hiding both. All eating disorders are very secretive diseases and here are some common characteristics of each type of anorexia:

Anorexia Nervosa Restrictive Type: 

  • Limits food consumption
  • Reduces calorie intake dramatically below healthy caloric needs
  • Starvation
  • Suffers from irrational fear for weight gain
  • Exhibits Abnormal eating patterns
  • Monitors weight excessively

Binge/Purge Type: 

  • Purges after eating
  • Has tremendous feelings of guilt regarding food
  • The guilt triggers vomiting, excessive exercise, and/or the use of laxatives
  • A person that suffers from this disorder can be restrictive at times and then leans to binge/purge at other times
  • Suffers from irrational fear for weight gain
  • Monitors weight excessively

Causes of Anorexia Nervosa: 

Anorexia is a very complex disorder with many layers. It develops due to biological and environmental factors. Typically in patients both factors contribute to the disorder. Examples of biological factors are: nutritional deficiencies, genetics possibly (being researched), and irregular hormone functions. Examples of environmental factors are: careers that promote being thin such as modeling, childhood sexual abuse, trauma of any kind, neglect, peer pressure to be thin from family or friends, and shame.

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms: 

A person suffering from anorexia can mask symptoms quite easily. They can potentially be suffering from the following:

  • Withdraws from family and friends
  • Avoids social interactions with family and friends especially if food is present
  • Obsesses with calorie counting and fat
  • Constantly dieting even though severely underweight
  • Avoids social functions, family, and friends.
  • May become isolated and withdrawn
  • Eats alone and/or hiding food
  • Talks about food in an obsessive way; fixating on food, cooking, and recipes
  • Has ritualistic eating patterns like eating food in a certain order, playing with it, or cutting it into very small pieces
  • Suffers from dizzy spells
  • Amenorrhea – loses their menstruation
  • Grows lanugo, soft fine hair, on their face and body
  • Loses hair or has thinning hair due to malnutrition
  • Misperception that losing weight will create happiness for them

Other Issues Combined with Anorexia Nervosa: 

It’s not uncommon to find other issues in someone suffering from anorexia such as anxiety, depression, or prescription medication addiction. These other issues can develop at any stage of anorexia. Someone suffering from the disorder can seek treatment for these other issues instead of seeking help for the underlying problem – anorexia. It is important to assess each person individually and use the whole person approach in treating people suffering from this disorder.

Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa: 

Clinically diagnosed eating disorders such as anorexia take a team of people to truly reach recovery in most cases. It is necessary to create a safe environment for someone that suffers from anorexia in order to treat it properly. A professional treatment team is required which can include: doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and holistic healers. I, personally, believe in in-patient treatment. It helped me get help quickly in a safe, monitored environment with a team of professionals with hourly care.

A person suffering from anorexia must be treated for nutritional conditions, medical conditions, and psychological conditions. The team must assess that the patient is physically healthy enough to begin treatment and then must begin eating their full caloric needs before underlying environmental causes will surface. Once they do, the causes must be worked through and new, healthy coping skills must be taught for them to deal with emotions.