Anorexia Nervosa: Living to Lose Weight

You choose extreme measures to lose body weight. You have an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body image. You adopt detrimental methods to control your weight and shape that proves to be fatal.

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder whereby people believe they are overweight despite being dangerously thin and malnourished.

Anorexia is of two types:

  1. Restrictive - Anorexics control their weight by restricting the quantity and type of food intake. They carry out rigorous exercises or follow obsessive rules.
  2. Binging/purging - It involves expelling what they have eaten by purging through self-induced vomiting and abusing laxatives.

What are the symptoms and causes of anorexia nervosa?

There is no single cause for anorexia nervosa. Genetics, psychological, and environmental factors play a role.

People with a family history of eating disorders are more susceptible to anorexia.

Having a negative self-image can also be a reason. As high as 50% of anorexics seem to have depression, anxiety, social phobia, or other disorders such as OCD.

Some people use anorexia as a coping mechanism against stress and a way to control certain aspects of their lives. So, by not eating, they are in control of their own body. With a "twisted perception of perfectionism", they tend to think they are never thin enough and go to extreme measures such as starving themselves.

Research suggests that a traumatic experience, physical or sexual abuse, family problems, and societal pressure can also cause anorexia.

Models, athletes, and dancers think being thin will bring them success in life. This unrealistic standard of “beauty” can encourage anorexia.

Some of the common symptoms and signs of anorexia nervosa are as follows:

  1. Weight control by purging
  2. Obsession with the food quantity, number of calories, and type of diet.
  3. Distorted body size and image
  4. Excessive exercise
  5. Choose to starve even when hungry
  6. Food intake rituals
  7. Pathological fear of being overweight
  8. Low self-esteem

How is anorexia diagnosed?

It can be hard for you to come to terms with your condition and might take years for a doctor to confirm a diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria of anorexia are:

  1. Restriction of food and nutrition intake leading to a low body mass index (BMI) of less than 17 in mild cases or less than 15 in extreme cases.
  2. Intense fear of becoming obese or gaining weight even though underweight.
  3. Disturbed perception of one’s body shape and denial of the current low body weight.

A doctor might assess if the anorexic behaviors are a result of any underlying mental conditions. It is also crucial to know if the person is engaging in any purging behaviors immediately after the intake of food.

Related: What is Bulimia Nervosa?


Anorexia nervosa health risks are:

  1. Osteoporosis and bone fractures
  2. Gastrointestinal and kidney problems
  3. Anemia
  4. Heart issues
  5. Infertility, loss of libido, and irregular periods.
  6. Electrolyte imbalance
  7. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts

Treatment for anorexia

Your resistance to eating and the ritualistic behaviors surrounding food might be hard to break. Challenging these might lead to distress. You may consider your condition as a lifestyle but not as an illness. You might refuse treatment in fear of gaining weight. Thus, it becomes hard for you to seek treatment.

However, therapists and psychologists will help with a variety of interventions that will help you deal with your condition.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to normalize eating behaviors to support weight gain and change the distorted beliefs surrounding body image and size. It will also help control stressful situations.

Nutrition counseling can provide you with specific meal plans, calorie intake, and the quantity of food required to regain healthy eating habits. Medications can help alleviate the complications associated with anorexia and also control anxiety, OCD, or depression.

Hospitalization may be necessary in extreme cases when there are severe weight loss and malnourishment or if the person refuses to eat even after treatment.

Know that recovery takes time and that people get better every day. It’s a work in progress.

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