Diet and Nutrition

Anorexia Nervosa – Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Anorexia Nervosa – Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Key Takeaways

  • 16 to 17 years of age is the average age where anorexia starts to occur.
  • People with anorexia usually do their best to hide their eating behavior from their family.
  • The primary symptom of anorexia is intentionally losing a lot of weight.

What is It?

Anorexia nervosa is a mental condition where an individual keeps his or her body weight as low as possible. That person usually restricts the amount of food they eat, makes him or herself vomit or exercises excessively. 

This illness develops due to anxiety regarding body shape and weight which originates from a desire to be thin or a fear of being fat. Most people with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image, thinking of themselves fat even if they are not.

Anorexia nervosa commonly affects women and young girls. 16 to 17 years of age is the average age where anorexia starts to occur.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia usually do their best to hide their eating behavior from their family and friends by pretending that they have already eaten or lying about the food they ate.

The primary symptom of anorexia is intentionally losing a lot of weight. People with anorexia are afraid to gain weight, thus they don’t eat normally. 

Below are the common signs and symptoms of people with anorexia:

  • Inadequate food intake that leads to very low weight
  • Missing meals
  • Avoiding eating fatty foods
  • Eating very few meals
  • Obsessively counting calories
  • Weighing themselves or looking in the mirror repeatedly
  • Leaving the table immediately after eating to vomit
  • Hair loss
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Taking laxatives, appetite suppressants or diuretics
  • Excessively exercise 

Other signs include:

Children with anorexia nervosa may experienced delayed puberty as well. They tend to be smaller compared to others of the same age and may gain less weight than normal.  In addition, monthly periods may stop in older girls and women with anorexia.

Anorexia is also linked to other psychological problems including anxiety, depression, alcohol misuse, low self-esteem and self-harm.

Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa

Prior to treatment, a psychological, physical and social needs assessment must be carried out by a physician, as well as a specialist in eating disorders. Doing so can help map out a suitable treatment plan.

In most cases of anorexia, treatment usually involves psychological therapy and individualized advice about eating and nutrition to be able to gain weight safely. During treatment, a team of healthcare professionals is involved. They usually consist of a physician, psychiatrist, dietician and nurse.

Most people with anorexia are treated on an outpatient basis, while more serious cases are managed in a specialist clinic or hospital.

Psychological Treatment

There are different psychological treatments for anorexia. Treatment may last for 6 to 12 months, depending on the severity of anorexia.

Treatment may include cognitive analytic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, focal psychodynamic therapy and family interventions.

Some people with anorexia refuse to receive treatment even though they are very ill or their life is at risk. In these instances, hospital admission is necessary.