What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and a serious mental illness. A person with anorexia nervosa restricts their energy intake, has a distorted body image and intense fear of gaining weight. The restriction in energy intake can cause significant amount of weight loss in a short period of time and may result in a person having a very low weight.

Anorexia nervosa is most common in women and usually starts in adolescents. It is the third most common chronic illness in girls and young women and affects up to 1 in 200 girls. Only 1 in 11 people who develop anorexia after puberty are male.

People with anorexia nervosa may see themselves as being heavy or large when they are actually severely underweight. Their perceived body weight or shape can have significant influence on how they evaluate or feel about themselves also known as body dysmorphia. Out of fear of gaining weight, they follow restrictive diets and may undertake harsh and excessive exercise routines.

Anorexia falls into three general types:

  • Restricting Type
  • Binge Eating/Purging Type
  • Atypical Anorexia Nervosa

What are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

The most obvious sign that someone has anorexia nervosa may be that they are underweight, they have lost weight very quickly or their weight fluctuates dramatically.

A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight. But being very thin is not the only sign of anorexia nervosa. There are also other signs that a person may have anorexia nervosa.

Physical Signs:

  • Loss in menstruation in women, decreased libido (sex drive) in men
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Always being cold
  • Bloating, constipation or developing food intolerances
  • Poor sleep
  • Lethargy and tiredness
  • Looking pale
  • Dry, yellow skin
  • Sunken eyes
  • Fine hair on the face and body

Psychological Signs:

  • Being preoccupied with eating, food, body, shape and weight
  • Being extremely dissatisfied with their body, or having a distorted body image
  • Being anxious and/or irritable at mealtimes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having rigid thoughts about food
  • Low self-esteem and perfectionism

Behavioural Signs

  • Intense dieting (counting calories, avoiding foods)
  • Deliberately misusing laxatives, appetite suppressants, enemas and diuretics
  • Any obsessive behaviour around body weight or shape (weighing themselves obsessively, pinching wrists or waist)
  • Binge eating
  • Avoiding eating with other people and secrecy around food
  • Wanting to be alone while eating
  • Excessive exercising
  • Obsessive rituals around food
  • Preoccupations with cooking, recipes and nutrition
  • Self-harm, substance abuse and suicide attempts

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Psychological factors, such as a high level of perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive personality traits, feeling limited control in life and low self-esteem, a tendency towards depression and anxiety and a poor reaction to stress.

Environmental Factors, including the onset of puberty, stressful life events and relationship problems.

Cultural pressures, to be thin from media and pop culture such as magazines, tv shows and movies.

Occupations, that demand a thin physique may increase the risk of anorexia nervosa, such as certain sports, ballet, or the television and fashion industries.

Brain chemistry, because extreme dieting can affect the balance of hormones in the body, affecting how the brain functions.

Genetic Predisposition, which arises from the gene inherited by parents. Anorexia nervosa often runs in families, suggesting there may be a genetic cause.

Coping with Anorexia Nervosa

Being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa can be life changing. Anorexia is an eating disorder marked by restrictive eating that results in low body weight, a fear of gaining weight, and distorted body image. If you’re struggling with your eating and you are unhappy with your body, come talk to us at Alegna Solutions Psychology Practice. We can help you to recover, We can help you organise having a food diary and analysing you’re eating behaviours.

If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder. Don’t hesitate to contact us to provide treatment and guidance at any time. You may be pleasantly surprised at the changes that can happen in your life.