anorexia nervosa

Anorexa Nervosa – All you need to know

What is Anorexia Nervosa?


Anorexia nervosa, also known as anorexia is a serious life threatening disorder, characterized  by an intense fear of gaining weight. Such disorders are dangerous yet treatable. Therefore, it is important to get familiar with eating disorder’s information and education so that awareness can lead to prevention and early diagnosis and treatment.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can be life threatening if not treated early. People with anorexia control the number of calories and the types of food they eat, resulting in abnormal body weight based on their age, height and physical health.

Such people exercise a lot or vomit intentionally to purge the food they eat in fear of gaining weight.


Prevalence and demographics of Anorexia Nervosa:


In the statistics, studies, and research of the disorder anorexia, it is found that women have anorexia at rates three times higher than males: with an approximate ratio of 10 females to 1 male.

  • In the US, 20% of people suffering from anorexia nervosa die.
  • Genetically the risk of anorexia is 50 – 80%.
  • According to DSM-5, the prevalence rate of lifetime anorexia in US adults is 0.80%.
  • In the United States, only one third of people suffering from anorexia nervosa obtain treatment.


Impact on physical and mental health:


The physical impact of anorexia nervosa in a patient can be from mild to severe depending on the stage they are receiving the treatment. Other physical symptoms can be:

  • Weakened bones known as osteoporosis 
  • Infertility and anemia (low red blood cells)
  • Slowed growth in young people
  • Gastrointestinal issues. 
  • It can also cause a kidney failure
  • Hormonal problems such as periods
  • Heart problems such as abnormal heart rhythm, sudden cardiac death, low blood pressure, congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart.


Many people with anorexia nervosa are also found suffering from other mental health conditions. It isn’t clear whether anorexia is the cause of other mental mental health conditions, or vice versa. but it is confirmed that the impact of anorexia nervosa on mental health can cause depression and anxiety. they might as well suffer from slow thinking, decreased ability to concentrate, low self-esteem and expressions of low-worth. It also increases the risk of developing binge disorder.


Causes and Risk Factors


The underlying triggers of anorexia nervosa are known to be complex, unknown and different from person to person. Although there are no specific reasons, the combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors are claimed to be the risk factors behind anorexia nervosa.  


Biological Factors:


Although there are many anorexia risk factors and reasons for an individual to have anorexia nervosa, those who have a family history of eating disorder, depression or a genetic tendency towards perfection, sensitivity and perseverance are at a higher risk of developing anorexia. Other than this, there may be genetic changes that make people at higher risk of developing anorexia.   


Psychological Factors:


Many people suffer from anorexia due to their personality and behavioral traits that are involved in the development of the condition. These factors are:

  • Obsessive compulsive personality traits
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Genetic tendency towards perfectionism
  • Phobia of being overweight
  • Restraint of emotion or poor handling of stress


Sociocultural Influences:


Anorexia nervosa is a disorder found to be more common in teenagers especially in girls and womens. Teens are at more risk because of all the changes their bodies go through during puberty, face increased peer pressure and are more sensitive to criticism or even casual comments about weight or body shape. 


Sign and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa


Recognizing the Red Flags:


For identifying eating disorders, it is important for people to know and recognise the signs and symptoms. People suffering from anorexia nervosa can go to great lengths to disguise their eating habits, that is why it can be hard to recognize red flags and symptoms of anorexia. Anorexia nervosa is an illness that for some is hard to understand and for those who suffer is hard to overcome.


Physical Symptoms:


The well-known physical sign of anorexia is low weight, however, it is important to keep in mind that some people can have anorexia without being underweight. Physical signs of anorexia also includes:

  •  Fatigue
  • Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling cold almost all the time
  • Absent periods (amenorrhea)
  • Bloating and abdominal pain
  • Loss of muscles mass
  • Slow wound healing and frequent illness
  • bluish coloring of the hands
  • Extreme weight loss and thin appearance
  • Swelling of arms or legs


Behavioral changes:


Behavioral signs of anorexia includes: 

  • Severely restricting food intake and exercising excessively
  • withdrawing from friends, social events and socializing. wearing loose layers of clothes to hide weight loss and stay warm.
  • Going to the washroom right after eating or purging through intentional vomiting.
  • Making frequent comments about your weight and looking in the mirror checking your figure’s appearance from time to time.


Emotional and mental signs:


Emotional and mental signs of anorexia are:

  • Lack of emotions and social withdrawal
  • Irritability and reduced interest in sex
  • Lack of sleep
  • gaining an obsessive interest in food, calories,  dieting and feeling a strong desire to be in control
  • Having a distorted self-image


The role of denial:


Denial of illness in people with eating disorders is a common consequence of not believing that one is ill because he or she doesn’t want to get well. In the treatment of anorexia the biggest challenge is helping the person recognize and accept that they have illness.


Health Consequence of Anorexia Nervosa


The Toll in the Body and Mind:


Due to the extreme long-term restriction of food, the tissues in the brain and body start to suffer because they don’t get the nutrition they need to survive.

The impact on the brain causes such lasting issues that complicates anorexia recovery. Those issues are as following:

  • Disordered thought patterns
  • Distorted self perceptions
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Guilt and isolation
  • Urge to engage in dysfunctional behaviors


Eating disorders leave a negative effect on physical health which not only decreases the patient’s overall sense of wellness but also puts them at risk of life-threatening complications. 

some of the effects of eating disorder on physical health are:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte Imbalances
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Headaches
  • Fast heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Poor temperature regulation
  • Lanugo
  • Muscle Wasting
  • Kidney damage
  • Loss of bone mass


Impact on organs and systems:


As said before anorexia is a disorder that keeps the patient on an extremely strict and dangerous diet to control their weight but this results in different and simultaneous vitamin and mineral deficiencies and overall malnutrition, which in the end results in organ function and some serious medical complications such as organ failure.

Some of the signs which indicate a developing problem includes:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue, drowsiness and loss of consciousness
  • Fever, chills and swelling in the abdomen
  • chest or abdominal pain
  • Jaundice and cyanosis 

Diagnostic criteria:


To diagnose anorexia nervosa, the diagnostic criteria according to DSM-5 must be followed:

  1. You will find people with anorexia nervosa having an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even when they are underweight.
  2. They restrict themself from energy intake leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, development trajectory, and physical health.
  3. They deny the seriousness of the current low body weight. undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evolution.


Importance of early detection:


People suffering from anorexia nervosa get blinded by the fear of gaining weight and don’t see the severity of their illness and are thus reluctant to seek help. Therefore, it is critical to detect anorexia early, to prevent chronic malnutrition, long-term health complications and death.


Treatment Approaches


Road to Recovery:


If someone who suffers from an eating disorder seems undetermined about their progress or feel their loved ones disengaged from the treatment process, then it leads to feeling ambivalence and limited progress. 


Weight restoration:


In the process of recovery of anorexia nervosa, weight restoration is one of the toughest and important parts because without full weight restoration, full recovery isn’t possible. 

Weight restoration is a process of gaining enough weight to reach a healthy, stable, and unsustainable weight for a person’s body.


Due to weight restoration, our body gets enough nutrients to heal our body systems, including the skeletomuscular, cardiovascular, immune and reproductive system.


Nurturing a Healthy Relationship with Food:


To nurture a healthy relationship with food, think about food as a source of nutrition and energy instead of something that should be avoided. Don’t diet, if you want to lose weight then talk to your doctor about when and how to do it. Make a habit of regular meals. Find healthy ways to manage stress as stress makes people binge which can lead to further disease. 



In conclusion, anorexia nervosa is a serious life-threatening eating disorder that comes with many underlying triggers. People suffering from anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight so they control the amount and type of food they eat, which leads to a dangerous level of weight loss. Identifying people with anorexia nervosa can be difficult sometimes because they can go to great lengths to hide their weight loss by wearing baggy and layers of clothes.

To prevent all this, it is important for us to promote body positivity, to provide empathy and support and to encourage people to seek help and support.


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