Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that affects many individuals around the globe. At any given time, anorexia affects a range of 0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men, according to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).1
A thorough understanding of anorexia nervosa is critical in recognizing the gravity of the disorder, especially in yourself or a loved one. However, it's important to note that self-diagnosis is unreliable, and this test should not be used as a substitute for professional help. Instead, use it as a stepping stone towards seeking professional guidance and support.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a severe and potentially life-threatening mental health disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and the unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight. A study in 2021 shows that anorexia is associated with a higher mortality rate than the general population, emphasizing the severe health risks associated with this condition.2
Recognizing the differences between anorexia and bulimia is crucial due to their shared characteristics. Bulimia, another prevalent eating disorder, presents unique differences in treatment methods, eating behaviors, body weight implications, and other areas, despite some surface similarities to anorexia.
Individuals with anorexia may have an extreme preoccupation with food, dieting, and body size, which can significantly interfere with their daily activities and overall quality of life. This condition goes beyond a mere desire to lose weight; it’s a complex condition that has roots in both genetic and environmental factors.
Studies have shown that genetic factors can play a significant role in the risk of anorexia and significantly contribute to the observed connection with major depression. The confluence of these elements can lead to anorexia, often causing individuals to view themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight.3
Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
Recognizing the warning signs of anorexia can be challenging due to the complexity of the disorder. Signs of anorexia nervosa can be categorized into physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms.
Physical signs may include drastic weight loss, a thin appearance, exhaustion, dizziness, fainting, and in women, amenorrhea, also known as the absence of a menstrual cycle. These symptoms are usually the direct consequence of self-imposed starvation and a lack of necessary nutrients for the body to function correctly.4
Behavioral signs can offer additional clues to anorexia. These may include a fixation on dieting, avoiding certain types or categories of food, highly restricted eating, denying feelings of hunger, frequently checking oneself in the mirror for perceived flaws, and wearing oversized or layered clothing to hide weight loss.5
The psychological signs of anorexia nervosa, while not immediately visible, can be the most telling. These include an excessive preoccupation with food, dieting, and body size, a distorted body image, and an intense fear of gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia may also have low self-esteem, often deriving self-worth primarily from their perceived body shape and size.
If you or a loved one suffers from this disorder, learn more about the long-term effects of anorexia to be informed of the psychological, physical, and neurological ramifications.
Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa
Treatment for anorexia nervosa is multi-faceted, typically involving a blend of medical, nutritional, and psychological therapies. This comprehensive approach addresses the full range of issues associated with the disorder.
Medical treatment primarily aims to manage and rectify the physical health problems resulting from anorexia, ranging from malnutrition and related complications to severe organ damage. Monitoring by healthcare professionals ensures that the individual's physical health is closely observed throughout the recovery process.
Nutritional counseling forms an integral part of anorexia treatment. A registered dietitian can help the individual restore weight safely and progressively, reintroduce certain foods into the diet, and foster a healthier relationship with food.
Psychological therapy, typically cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or family-based therapy, is the cornerstone of anorexia treatment. Therapy aims to help individuals identify and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors related to food, eating, and body image. It also addresses underlying emotional issues and improves self-esteem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 50% of people with anorexia have also received treatment for emotional and mental problems.6
Kahm Center for Eating Disorders - Anorexia Treatment
Anorexia nervosa is a severe disorder, but a full recovery is possible with appropriate intervention. If you suspect you or someone you know may suffer from this disorder, seek professional help immediately. A personalized treatment plan, devised and overseen by healthcare professionals, is vital in managing anorexia nervosa.
While anorexia and bulimia nervosa are distinct disorders, it is essential to acknowledge their shared characteristics. Understanding the variations in symptoms, behaviors, and health implications is vital for healthcare professionals to deliver practical assistance. Expand your knowledge about the variations between anorexia and bulimia by exploring further information.
For individuals grappling with anorexia, the Kahm Center in Vermont offers comprehensive support. Their anorexia treatment approach encompasses therapy, personalized nutrition plans, and structured interventions to promote physical and nutritional well-being. Collaborating with a nutritionist aids in addressing persistent challenges related to body image, food, and managing eating disorder behaviors. Reach out to the Kahm Center today to seek assistance for yourself or a loved one.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders?gclid=Cj0KCQjwyLGjBhDKARIsAFRNgW_-mCjISwXHYIzzfzzrGc2PDqdsitvVJx2WtBHQelkHUOR_BCWCX18aAhs9EALw_wcB
- Fichter, M. M., & Quadflieg, N. (2021). Mortality in eating disorders - results of a large prospective clinical longitudinal study. International journal of eating disorders, 54(8), 1371–1383. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34419970/
- Sullivan, P. F. (2002). Course and outcome of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In E. F. Hollander (Ed.), Eating disorders: Risk factors, health effects and treatment options (pp. 67-76). Nova Science. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10698830/
- Treasure, J., Duarte, T. A., & Schmidt, U. (2020). Eating Disorders. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459148/
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Eating Disorders: Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders
Clinically Reviewed By
Nick Kahm, PhD
Nick Kahm, a former philosophy faculty member at St. Michael's College in Colchester, VT, transitioned from academia to running the Kahm Clinic with his mother. He started the clinic to train dietitians in using Metabolic Testing and Body Composition Analysis for helping people with eating disorders. Now, he is enthusiastic about expanding eating disorder treatment through the Kahm Center for Eating Disorders in Vermont.