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Published On: Apr 2, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the affected individual deprives themselves of food to the point of severely low body weight. Oftentimes people with anorexia have a distorted image of their body, perceiving themselves to weigh an inordinately higher amount than they do in reality. They are often overly concerned about weight gain. People with anorexia may struggle to understand the severity of their condition, making it very difficult to heal in some cases. This disorder can have devastating effects on organ function, immune system, and overall health, and may lead to death. 

Many different factors can contribute to anorexia development. Anxiety disorders, chronic stress and trauma may increase the risk of this disorder, as well as biological and environmental factors.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa. The first is the restricting type, in which the person restricts nutrient intake, failing to meet their body’s needs for normal functioning. The second is the binge eating/purging type, also known as bulimia nervosa. This subtype is characterized by excessive food intake, followed by extreme efforts to prevent weight gain. This may be manifested through induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, dieting or extreme exercise. People suffering from bulimia are often very secretive about their bouts of binging and purging. 

What are the Causes of Anorexia?

Anorexia is a very complex disorder, as it may be caused by any combination of biological, psychological or environmental elements. Biological factors including hormone levels and genetic predisposition may lead to anorexia. Studies suggest an increased risk of anorexia if parents or relatives have also struggled with eating disorders. Low levels of the hormones serotonin and dopamine may also contribute to anorexia nervosa.

Psychological factors oftentimes play a part in anorexia development as well. Anxiety and depression are largely correlated with anorexia, as well as generally low self-esteem. People with anorexia may struggle with an increased need for control or perfectionism. Body dysmorphia, or extreme distortion of one’s perceived body image, is another cause of anorexia. People suffering from body dysmorphia tend to view relatively minor flaws in their bodies as massive imperfections, leading to extreme behaviors and severe insecurities.

The person’s environment can also contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa. Anorexic tendencies can be a coping mechanism for trauma, abuse or a tumultuous home life. For people in unstable life situations, food and weight can sometimes feel like the only thing that they can control, giving a false sense of order to their otherwise chaotic lives. Societal or cultural ideals of beauty also contribute to the overall understanding of what is “acceptable” or “normal” for the body’s appearance. Perceived deviation from this norm can cause distress and foster obsessive mentalities or behaviors. 

Bullying can play a part in developing anorexia, particularly in the youth. Peer pressure, particularly in sports that prioritize a thin body ideal, can be negatively influential in regards to body image and potentially lead to eating and feeding disorders such as anorexia. Gymnastics, competitive dancing and ballet, track and field, swimming and horseback riding all report high rates of eating disorders among competitors, particularly females.

Signs of Anorexia

While anorexia can be very apparent in some cases, it also has the potential to be a covert disorder. It may be helpful to understand some telltale signs of anorexia, although an official diagnosis would be reserved for a medical or mental health professional. Some signs and symptoms of anorexia include but are not limited to: 

  • Avoidance or insecurity of eating in public
  • Insistence upon small portion sizes
  • Labeling specific foods or food groups “good” or “bad”
  • Low body weight 
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Absence of a menstrual cycle in who would otherwise be menstruating women
  • Anemia
  • Thinning hair 
  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia
  • Yellowed or eroded teeth from induced vomiting
  • Blue tint on the fingers
  • Low blood pressure

Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), delineates three diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa. The first is the restriction of nutrient intake below the individual’s relative needs, leading to a significantly lower body weight than is normal for that person’s age, sex and stage of development. The second criterion is an intense fear of gaining weight, and an obsession with avoiding any behaviors that may lead to weight gain in the future. The final DSM-5 criteria for anorexia nervosa is a deep disturbance about body image or shape, oftentimes failing to recognize extremely low body weight. 

Anorexia diagnosis may be daunting, but it is the first step to creating a path towards healing. If you think you or a loved one may meet the criteria for anorexia, there are numerous treatment options that you can explore.

Anorexia Treatment: Where to Begin?

Treatment modalities for anorexia vary based on the type and severity of the disorder. Treatment generally includes medical monitoring, as well as some form of psychological and therapeutic counseling. Nutrition counseling is also necessary to aid in restoring health and well-being to the body. In extreme and potentially fatal cases, periods of hospitalization may be necessary.

Formal treatment programs and support groups have shown great success in helping people heal from anorexia. Inpatient programs include admittance into a residence facility for closer monitoring, intensive group programs and around-the-clock support. Outpatient programs are structured support groups that allow the patient to come and go, integrating treatment into their normal daily lives. 

Find Healing from Eating Disorders Today

Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous condition and can be scary to walk through alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, Seeds of Hope is here for you. Contact us online today, or call 610-644-6464 to embark upon your unique path to a renewed quality of life.

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