Anorexia nervosa is characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight, a lack of menstruation among girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating behavior. Some people with anorexia lose weight by dieting and exercising excessively; others lose weight by self-induced vomiting, or misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas.
Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight, even when they are starved or are clearly malnourished. Eating, food and weight control become obsessions. A person with anorexia typically weighs herself or himself repeatedly, portions food carefully, and eats only very small quantities of only certain foods. Some who have anorexia recover with treatment after only one episode. Others get well but have relapses. Still others have a more chronic form of anorexia, in which their health deteriorates over many years as they battle the illness.
Ten Warning Signs
• Deliberate self-starvation with weight loss
• Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
• Refusal to eat or highly restrictive eating
• Continuous dieting
• Excessive facial/body hair because of inadequate protein in the diet
• Compulsive exercise
• Abnormal weight loss
• Sensitivity to cold
• Absent or irregular menstruation
• Hair loss
Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms Explained
15% below ideal body weight. Refusing to maintain a normal weight or above-normal weight for height and age. Not everyone who is of a low weight is anorexic; it is important to recognize that it is the REFUSAL to maintain a normal weight that is the key factor.
It is sometimes difficult to identify anorexia in children because their height appears to be in proportion to their weight. A possible complication of an eating disorder is stunted growth in children. A pediatrician will need to carefully monitor him/her with a growth chart. Also, young children may not talk about weight but rather may describe physical complaints such as nausea or feelings of fullness.
2. Intense Fear of Gaining Weight or Becoming Fat, Even if Underweight
This intense fear is powerful enough to cause individuals to diet to the point of starvation. While the term anorexia means loss of appetite, this is not true of anorexia nervosa. A person with anorexia is hungry but he or she is afraid to eat because of the fear. Often specific foods are avoided, especially those that are high in fat and calories. Often individuals will become vegetarians and want to eat healthily when indeed the issue is the fear of gaining weight.
A person with anorexia constantly thinks about food – how many calories, how many fat grams, how much exercise is needed if you eat a cookie? How many times do you check the scale?
There is always the attempt to try to control eating because of the fear of gaining weight. Often meals are avoided or eaten very slowly, pondering each bite, fearing that eating will surely make one fat.
These thoughts begin to control a person’s mind 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A person’s entire life can be centered on this one issue, depriving that person of joy in friends, fun and family.
3. Body Image Problems
When a person with anorexia looks into a mirror he/she does not often see an accurate reflection. A person with anorexia sees him/herself as fat, even if he/she is dangerously thin. This is a very frightening experience and feels very real – driving the person to diet.
Sometimes a person with anorexia can accept that he/she is very thin but cannot accept how dangerous the situation really is. It is difficult for him/her to understand that a very low weight and dangerous dieting habits can actually be fatal. The death rate for anorexia is higher than for any other psychiatric illness.
4. Amenorrhea or Absence of Menstruation
Missing 3 periods is usually the criteria for this state. Of course, these criteria are not applied to males, young females who have not started their periods, or females who are on birth-control pills.
Types of Anorexia
Many individuals with anorexia will severely restrict their calories sometimes taking in only a few hundred calories a day or just water. This is called the RESTRICTING TYPE. Our bodies do not like to starve. Remember, the individual with anorexia has an appetite; he/she just tries to control it. It is very difficult when a person is starving not to want to eat. What happens to many individuals is that they lose control, they eat, or eat something they feel they should not have eaten. For these individuals, this might mean something as simple as a cookie, a normal meal or even a binge. With the fear of gaining weight, they may vomit or exercise. This type of anorexia is called the BINGE-EATING/PURGING TYPE, one of the most dangerous forms of an eating disorder.