Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa manifests through severe malnourishment, or in more clinical terms, the refusal to maintain appropriate energy (calorie) intake to support a healthy body weight, based on the individual’s age, sex, and height. Those diagnosed with anorexia are not only typically severely underweight, but also suffer from an extreme fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image. The distortion in body perception inhibits the ability to recognize the low body weight and causes the individual to perceive his or her body very differently than it actually is.

Physical Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

The most obvious physical sign of anorexia is weight loss, but there are numerous other physical symptoms that occur.

  • Cessation of menstruation: also called “amenorrhea” is the absence of consecutive menstrual cycles
  • Hair loss: can occur due to lack of vitamins and nutrients associated with malnourishment
  • Brittle nails
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Low body temperature: anorexia can cause individuals to feel cold much of the time, which signals the body to create lanugo on the body
  • Lanugo: fine, soft hairs that can grow on the body and limbs; compensates for the low body temperature experienced by anorexics
  • Discolored hands/feet: due to poor circulation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Osteopenia: bone density loss
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Potential Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Significant weight loss
  • Calorie Counting
  • Preoccupation with food: individuals suffering from anorexia frequently spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food, researching recipes, and even cooking for others.
  • Being highly critical of body
  • Refusal to eat
  • Laxative use
  • Isolating: spending increasing amounts of time alone, in order to act out in the eating disorder
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Wearing loose clothing (to hide body)
  • Excessive exercise

Common Behaviors of Individuals with Anorexia Nervosa

  • Water loading: drinking excessive amounts of water, or other liquids to achieve a feeling of fullness, and therefore decrease hunger pains; water loading is also used to achieve a “false” weight on the scale as a way to deceive doctors or dietitians into believing the individual has gained weight.
  • Punching stomach: a way to fight hunger pains
  • Visiting “pro-ana” websites: “pro-ana” or pro-anorexic websites are places for individuals who are actively in their eating disorder to find tips to fight hunger, lose more weight, read personal stories, and view pictures to inspire the drive towards thinness.
  • Frequent use of the scale
  • Refusal to eat in public
  • Ritualistic food behaviors: only eating certain foods, cutting foods into small pieces, eating in cyclical nature, not mixing foods

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