Anorexia Nervosa

AN

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) 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.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) 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, and 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 due to a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single place 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.

  • Confused Physiological Processes & Altered Hunger and Satiety Signals

  • Abnormal Brain Circuitry & Weakened Food-centric Reward Pathways

  • Genetic Predispositions & a Need for Perfection

  • Emotion-triggering Environmental Factors

What to Look For

Being familiar with the signs and symptoms associated with anorexia nervosa can help you champion early intervention and recovery. Watch out for frequent body checking, severely restricted food intake, and/or extreme diet-rigidity that only allows for small quantities of certain foods. Comorbidities include: obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia.

  • Obsessive Calorie-Counting & Body, Weight, and Mirror Checking

  • Distorted Body Image & Seemingly Contrary Fear of Weight Gain

  • Hiding or Throwing Away Food & Meal Skipping

  • Extreme Diet and Exercise-Routine Rigidity

  • 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 Intuitive Decision-Making & Weakened 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 Depression

Resources

SCOFF: Eating Disorder Assessment Tool

The SCOFF questionnaire is a useful tool to screen for maladaptive eating behaviors. Individuals answering “yes” to two or more questions may be at risk for an eating disorder and…

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What Causes Eating Disorders?

For 15 years I worked as a research scientist examining the neurobiologic and genetic underpinnings of eating disorders. The number one question I heard (and still hear) is: What causes eating disorders? Is…

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Understanding the Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders

There are specific behaviors that point to different types of eating disorders. Understanding and identifying these signs and symptoms is critical to providing the most effective individualized course of treatment…

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A Certified Eating Disorder Specialist’s Review of Netflix’s ‘To The Bone’

Since the release of the film To The Bone a week ago on Netflix, there has been much discussion within the eating disorders community – among treatment professionals, patients, parents…

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