What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an inability to eat enough food to maintain weight and/or growth trajectories; exceptionally low body weight; an obsessive concern with weight gain; and a distorted body image. The disorder has two subtypes and can involve both severe restriction of food intake and binge/purge behaviors. The median age of onset is 12 years old and falling; the disorder has been diagnosed in individuals as young as six. Anorexia nervosa is lethal, and mortality is most often due to complications from starvation.
What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
Like all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to, and despite common misconceptions, families and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to anorexia nervosa that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime.
Abnormal Brain Circuitry & Weakened Food-Related Reward Pathways
Malnutrition-Induced Changes in Physiological Processes & Altered Hunger and Fullness Signals
Genetic Predispositions & Psychological Characteristics Such as a Drive for Perfection
Environmental Factors Such as Trauma
Culturally Sanctioned Drive for Thinness
What to Look For
Being familiar with the signs and symptoms can help you champion early intervention and improve recovery rates for anorexia nervosa. Things to watch for include body checking, significantly restricting food intake, and/or extreme food rigidity that allows for only small quantities of certain foods. Associated disorders, or “comorbidities,” include obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia.
- Obsessive Calorie-Counting & Body, Weight, and Mirror Checking
- Distorted Body Image & Fear of Weight Gain
- Hiding or Throwing Away Food & Meal Skipping
- Extreme Food Restriction and Exercise-Routine
Rigidity or Obsessiveness
- Intense Fear of Food or of a Specific Food
Risks of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.
Electrolyte Imbalances, Congestive Heart Failure & Sudden Death
Impaired Decision-Making & Impulse Control
Cold Intolerance, Hair Loss & Skin and Nail Discoloration
Osteoporosis & Easy Bruising/Bruising Along Spine
Growth of Lanugo, or Fine White Hair, all over Body
In Males: Decreased Frequency of Erections & Nocturnal Emissions
In Females: Amenorrhea, Difficulty Conceiving & if Pregnant, Increased Risk for Miscarriage, Low Birth Weight & Postpartum Depressionz