Learn About Ailments | Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. A low body weight is controlled by intentional starvation, vomiting, excessive exercise and laxative abuse. It is a psychological illness which results in a distorted body image and an obsession with dieting.
Anorexia nervosa

In This Article
Did You Know? Causes of Anorexia Nervosa
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa
Related Terms

  • 1 in 100 women aged 15-30 suffer with anorexia nervosa
  • Over 90% of anorexia nervosa sufferers are female
  • Dancers, gymnasts and models have an increased risk of anorexia
  • 5% of anorexia cases result in death
  • 40% of people with anorexia recover completely

Anorexia nervosa has a number of causes most of which are psychological. Teenage girls are particularly at risk due to the pressures to be slim placed on them by society.

The condition causes anxiety about weight and shape of the body and the anxiety is caused by thinking that you are overweight or fat, a fear of being fat or an excessive desire to be thin. However, there are a number of factors that may contribute to those anxieties which can lead to developing anorexia in the future. They are:
  • Previous weight problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Career demands i.e. athletes, models or dancers who strive for low-body weight due to standards or goals within their industry
Along with these contributory factors there are certain triggers from life experiences that can lead to insecurity, fear and stress. These include:
  • Going through puberty
  • Peer pressure
  • Bullying
  • Exam stress
  • Abuse (physical and sexual)
  • Divorce
  • Bereavement
People with anorexia may be suffering with other psychological conditions such as depression and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Someone with anorexia nervosa will attempt to hide their condition and eating habits from those closest to them. The main symptom of anorexia nervosa is the deliberate loss of weight by under-eating, forced vomiting or taking of laxatives (to empty the stomach) and over-exercising.

Food and Eating

People with anorexia will attempt to reduce their weight to as low as possible and will fear gaining weight to the point whereby they can't eat normally. When they do eat, they will try to remove the food from their body by either forcing themselves to vomit or taking laxatives and diuretics.

Other signs that someone has anorexia include: excusing themselves straight after mealtimes and hardened skin on the knuckles (caused by placing fingers down the throat).

Anorexia nervosa does not cause the sufferer to lose their appetite but the way they think about food will differ to other people. This can be displayed by:
  • Lying about food and what they've eaten
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Lying about their weight
  • Uncontrollable thoughts about food
  • Spending too much time reading books about food (cookbooks, recipes etc)
  • Cooking for others but eating little or nothing themselves
Someone with anorexia nervosa will apply strict regimes and controls to their eating habits. They may follow a strict diet, excessively count calories, avoid any food deemed 'fattening', choose only low-fat foods, skip meals, avoid eating socially or hide their food. Anorexia can also cause someone to take appetite suppressants or slimming pills and drink excessive amounts of caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola).

Body Image and Self-Esteem

An anorexia sufferer believes that their worth as a person is based on their looks and weight. By being thinner they believe that others will accept them and like them and therefore think that further weight loss is a positive thing. There will be a distorted view of their body image often thinking they look fat when they're not. A person with anorexia may try to disguise how thin they've become by wearing clothes that are too big.

Low self-esteem and low confidence causes an anorexia sufferer to withdraw and distance themselves from relationships. They may have a lack of concentration, reduced interest in activities or their work performance may suffer.

Physical symptoms of anorexia
Poor eating habits will eventually lead to certain physical problems. Anorexia nervosa sufferers find their hair, skin and nails lose condition. Hair on the face and body may increase and pubic hair becomes sparse and thin.

Poor circulation and a slow or irregular heartbeat is common along with abdominal pain, constipation, swollen hands/feet/face, fatigue, low blood pressure, feeling cold, dizzy spells and feeling light-headed.
Young anorexia sufferers will have delayed puberty and may be smaller in size than people of the same age. Older sufferers can cease to have periods or become infertile.

A GP will diagnose anorexia nervosa by examination and asking questions about weight and eating habits. Tests include measuring weight and BMI (Body Mass Index – someone who has anorexia will have a BMI under 17.5).

A GP will check pulse, blood pressure and occasionally request an ECG (Electrocardiograph) test to see how well the heart is functioning. For certain cases, they'll check the level of fluids in the blood and any chemical or mineral imbalances. 

If a GP believes you're suffering with anorexia they will refer you to an eating disorder specialist.

  • Anorexia
  • Appetitie
  • Amenorrhea
  • Binge Eating
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • Eating Disorder
  • Hyperalimentation
  • Lanugo
  • Poor Appetite
  • Purging
  • Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome
  • Russell's Sign
  • Weight Management

Therapies to consider
Art Therapy Colour Therapy Counselling
EMDR Energy Healing Holistic Massage
Hypnotherapy Life Coaching Nutrition
Pilates Psychotherapy Reflexology


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