Anorexia Nervousa

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is an Eating Disorder that is characterized by weight loss, difficulties maintaining appropriate height and weights based on age, and often distorted body image.


Generally, people experiencing Anorexia restrict the number of calories they consume as well as the types of foods that they eat. Some people with this disorder may also exercise compulsively and engage in other eating disorder behaviors such as taking laxatives, purging, and binge eating.

Anorexia can affect people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, races, and ethnicities. Anorexia typically develops during adolescence but has increased numbers in children as well as adults and is more commonly seen in females however males also experience anorexia as well as other eating disorders.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

Emotional & Behavioral Signs

·         Dramatic Weight Loss

·         Dresses in layers to hide weight loss or to stay warm

·         Preoccupied with weight, food, calories, and dieting

·         Makes frequent comments about being “overweight”

·         Denies hunger

Physical Signs

·         Stomach cramps & other gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)

·         Dizziness & Fainting

·         Feeling cold all the time

·         Menstrual irregularities (in females)

·         Thinning of hair, Dry Skin, Yellow skin

Health Consequences

Anorexia is a cycle of self-starvation, where the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. The body is forced to slow down because of this in order to conserve energy. Anorexia as well as other Eating Disorders can have fatal consequences.

How to Help A Loved One

If you are concerned about the eating habits, weight, or body image of someone you care for, we understand that this may be a very difficult time for you and your loved one. Many individuals in recovery from an eating disorder heavily rely on the help and support from friends and family.

How to talk to a loved one about eating concerns

  • Learn as much as you can about eating disorders: Read books, articles, and brochures. Know the differences between facts and myths about weight, nutrition, and exercise.
  • Rehearse what to say: This may help your anxiety and clarify exactly what you want to say. Other people have found writing out their main points help
  • Set a private time and place to talk: Make sure to find a time and place where you can have time to discuss concerns without being rushed.
  • Be honest: Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating and body image problems.
  • Use “I” statements: Focus on behaviors that you have personally observed. Such as “I’ve noticed that you aren’t eating dinner with us anymore.”
  • Remove potential stigma: Remind your loved one that there is no shame in admitting when you need help or that you are struggling with an eating or mental health disorder.
  • Be prepared for negative reactions: some people may be glad that someone has noticed that they are struggling. Others may respond differently and can be angry or hostile. Some could brush off concerns or minimize potential dangers. These responses are normal. Reiterate your concerns, let them know you care, and leave the conversation open.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help: Offer to help the individual find a therapist, and help them with finding treatment options.

Even if you don’t feel the discussion was well-received, don’t despair. You shared your concern and let them know that you care and are there for them. You may have helped plant a seed that they should seek help which can help them move toward recovery.

Tips for encouraging a loved one to seek professional help

Recovery from an eating disorder requires professional help, and chances are improved the sooner a person begins treatment. Here are some tips to encouraging loved ones to seek help:

  • Ask if they want help making the first call or appointment: some individuals may find it less anxiety-provoking if someone else sets up the appointment or goes with them to the first appointment
  • If the first professional isn’t a good match, encourage them to keep looking: finding the right therapist isn’t easy and someone may need to go through a few therapists before they find someone who is the right fit for them.
  • Make sure that they get a medical check up: eating disorders can cause a wide range of medical issues and individuals with an eating disorder need to see a physician regularly to make sure their health is not at immediate risk.
  • Remind the person of why they want to get well: What types of goals does your loved one have? Helping them reconnect with their values and who they want to be can help them stay focused on long-term recovery and not the short term benefits of the eating disorder.
  • Find a middle ground: if you have become overly insistent about your loved one seeking help they may begin to avoid you, and you do not want to ignore the issue at hand. It is not always easy to find middle ground but regularly checking in with your loved one about how they are doing and if they are willing to seek treatment can help nudge them in the right direction.

What to Expect From Treatment

Getting a diagnosis is the first step in treating an eating disorder. Treatment of an eating disorder usually involves a combination of counseling as well as medical monitoring. Treatment must address the eating disorder symptoms. Many individuals utilize a treatment team to treat their eating disorders. Some common treatment teams include:

  • Physician
  • Therapist
  • Dietitian/Nutritionist

Most Physicians will be able to refer you to a local therapist and dietitians/nutritionists who have experience in treating eating disorders. The first step will be to restore normal eating patterns and having the client return to a healthy body weight. Eating Disorder Treatment generally addresses the following factors:

  • Interrupt eating disorder behaviors
  • Establish normalized eating and nutritional rehabilitation
  • Challenge unhelpful and unhealthy eating disorder related thoughts and behaviors
  • Address ongoing medical and mental health issues
  • Establish a plan to prevent relapse

Additional Resources

Video– Inside the Eating Disordered Mind

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