All you always wanted to know about the Eating Disorder- Anorexia Nervosa


Anorexia Nervosa is essentially a mental disorder, but its consequences are physical in nature. To be considered anorexic according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a person must be fifteen percent lighter than the minimum body weight for his or her height. The disorder is characterized by three symptoms: 1) refusal to maintain a healthy body weight; 2) an intense fear of weight gain; and 3) distorted body image. The disorder is common in females but is increasingly seen in males too. The article provides details about the symptoms and behavior associated with the disorder. Various treatment options available for patients have also been provided.


Anorexia Nervosa is essentially a mental disorder, but its consequences are physical in nature. The sufferers are usually adolescent girls and young women between the age of twelve and twenty five years. To be considered anorexic according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a person must be fifteen percent lighter than the minimum body weight for his or her height.

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder which is characterized by determined attempts to lose weight or avoid weight gain. This can be achieved through avoidance of food, self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, excessive exercise or a combination of these factors. With Anorexia Nervosa, the individual finds it extremely difficult to maintain a weight that is compatible with health and gaining weight is a terrifying prospect for most sufferers.

Risk Factors

The various risk factors for Anorexia Nervosa include:

  1. Being worried about or paying more attention to body weight and shape
  2. Having an anxiety disorder, since childhood
  3. Having a negative self-image
  4. Having eating problems since infancy or childhood
  5. Having certain pre-fixed ideas about health and beauty
  6. Trying to be perfect or being too focused on rules

The exact causes of Anorexia Nervosa are unknown and may involve multiple factors such as genetic and hormonal factors and social attitudes promoting very thin bodies


Anorexia usually begins during the pre-teen or teen years or young adulthood. The disorder is more common in females but may also be seen in males. The disorder is commonly seen in white woman who are high achievers in school and have a goal oriented personality or family values.


The patients suffering from Anorexia Nervosa show the following symptoms:

  1. Having an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though the patient is underweight.
  2. Refusal to maintain weight that is normal for patient’s height and age; and a tendency to maintain a 15% lower weight than the normal.
  3. Having a distorted body image, being over focused on body weight and shape; and refusal to admit the danger of weight loss.
  4. Missed period for three or more menstrual cycles in women.

Behavior Associated with the Disorder

  1. Breaking food into smaller pieces and moving them around the plate instead of eating
  2. Exercising all the time, even in bad weather, poor health and busy routine
  3. Going to the bathroom right after the meals
  4. Refusal to eat when other people are around
  5. Using medicines such as diuretics, laxatives and diet pills

Other symptoms may include dry, blotchy or yellow skin covered with fine hair; confused or slow thinking and poor memory or judgment; depression; dry mouth; extreme sensitivity to cold; loss of bone strength; and wasting of muscles with reduced body fat.


Anorexia affects all systems of the body.

Some of the prominent effects of Anorexia Nervosa on the body include:
1) It slows digestion, which may lead to constipation.

2) It makes one feel cold and a thin layer of hair called lanugo grows all over the patient’s body.

3) A constant feeling of tiredness and weakness in body.

4) Osteoporosis, liver and kidney damage may occur at later stages of the disease.


The treatment of Anorexia Nervosa shifted from essentially being based on a purely medical approach which relied heavily on neuroleptics in the 1950s and 1960s to a strong emphasis on individual psychotherapy which took into account both developmental and biological framework; and the need for a multifaceted treatment approach in the twentieth century. Later, both behavioral and cognitive interventions were added to the treatment programs for the disorder and the inclusion of family therapy has been advocated in younger patients.

The biggest challenge of a treatment program to help patients deal with the disorder is helping the person recognize or accept that he or she has an eating disorder. Most people deny that they are suffering from the disorder and treatment begins only when their condition is serious.

The goals of a treatment plan for the disorder are to restore the normal body weight to gain about 1 to 3 pounds per week and eating habits. A person can gain weight by increasing social activity, reducing exercises and maintaining a diet schedule.

The care providers involved in the treatment programs include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dieticians and mental health care providers.

In serious cases, where the patient has lost excessive body weight; continuation of weight loss even after treatment; medical complications and suicidal tendencies, the patients are hospitalized.


Anorexia Nervosa is a psychological disease and thus is mainly concerned with the emotions of an individual. It is advised that patients suffering from the disease are provided treatment in time before their condition becomes life threatening.

Disclaimer: This article is shared for information purpose only. Please seek advice of a physician in case of any health emergency.

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