Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can put your life at risk. It is an illness where individuals go to extreme measures to prevent weight gain, often resulting in devastating consequences.
Women and girls who are suffering from anorexia typically experience an intense fear of gaining weight and develop strict behaviors to limit their caloric intake. They also experience misperceptions of their own appearance, which can lead to the harmful cycle of anorexia nervosa.
You can learn more details about anorexia nervosa by visiting the Mayo Clinic.
Common Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
Women and girls who have anorexia nervosa might display behaviors that should be seen as warning signs by those around them. While these behaviors do not necessarily mean that a woman or adolescent girl is suffering from anorexia, they are things that should prompt a conversation.
Examples of anorexia warning signs can include:
- Refusing to eat
- Avoiding the grocery store
- Turning down invitations to go out to eat at restaurants
- Lying about eating
- Weighing food before eating it
- Wearing oversized clothing
- Consistently taking laxatives
- Exercising excessively
- Frequently weighing themselves
- Making negative comments about their appearance
- Denial of hunger
- Frequently examining themselves in mirrors
Common Symptoms of Anorexia
The symptoms of anorexia nervosa go beyond the presence of warning signs. When a woman or girl is displaying any of the symptoms discussed below, it is likely evidence that anorexia care is needed.
Some females might only display a few of these symptoms, while others may display many or even all of them. This can depend on a number of factors, such as the woman’s or girl’s body type, the length of time they have been suffering from anorexia, and the frequency with which they engage in anorexic behaviors.
Some examples of anorexia symptoms include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Emaciated appearance
- Yellowing skin
- Brittle nails
- Irregular heartbeat
- Frequent abdominal pain
- Losing hair
- Soft, fine hair covering their body
- Muscular weakness
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), clinicians can gain an understanding of the current severity of a woman’s symptoms by referring to the body mass index measurements noted below.
- Mild: BMI > 17 kg/m2
- Moderate: BMI of 16-16.99 kg/m2
- Severe: BMI of 15-15.99 kg/m2
- Extreme: BMI < 15 kg/m2
Regardless of what the stated severity level is, any female who is suffering should seek care for the symptoms of anorexia they are experiencing. And in choosing to come to Timberline Knolls, all women and girls will receive the same comprehensive care.
Common Causes & Risk Factors of Anorexia Nervosa
There is no specific and direct cause of anorexia nervosa, but experts in the mental health field have identified a number of different factors that can play a role in the development of anorexia in women or young girls. Depending on a person’s home environment, genetics, cultural background, and life experiences, the potential causes of and risk factors for developing anorexia will vary.
Examples of possible causes and risk factors that can lead to the onset of anorexia include:
- Having a relative who has anorexia
- Working in an environment where appearance is highly valued
- Living with people who criticize your weight or appearance
- Having a history of trauma
- Having a co-occurring mental illness like depression
- Low self-esteem
Anorexia Nervosa Statistics
- FREED states that approximately 20 million people in the United States have an eating disorder like anorexia.
- Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic illness in female adolescents.
- It is believed that only approximately one-third of those who are suffering from anorexia seek professional care.
- Tragically, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.
Effects of Anorexia Nervosa
The impact of anorexia nervosa can be extreme. The specific effects that will impact a woman or girl, as well as the time frame in which they develop, will differ depending on genetics, the length of time she has been struggling with anorexia symptoms, and whether or not she has received medical care or nutritional counseling for anorexia at any point in time.
Everyone will have different experiences with anorexia nervosa. Some of the most common side effects of anorexia can include:
- Damage to organs
- Damage to digestive system
- Kidney failure
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Decline in ability to attend to responsibilities
- Developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol
- Suicidal ideation
Recovery from anorexia nervosa is a lifelong journey. Getting help from professionals is key to successfully starting that journey, but you cannot become frustrated with yourself or feel disheartened if there are setbacks along the way.
Triggers are a large factor that impact the recurrence of anorexia nervosa. Triggers are things that happen that bring your mind back to areas you have struggled with. For example, if you are in a situation where someone comments on another person’s weight, it can trigger you to think about your own weight.
Unfortunately, triggers never fully go away. The goal is to find ways to manage your responses to those triggers. When you are working with a professional, it is important that you identify the types of things you know will trigger you so that you can put a plan in place for how you will respond.
However, even having a plan in place doesn’t mean that relapse won’t happen. If you find yourself beginning to engage in the same behaviors or experiencing the symptoms of anorexia you previously did, it is important that you seek help again right away.
Common Underlying or Co-Occurring Disorders
It is not uncommon for people who struggle with anorexia to also suffer from other types of mental illness or addiction concerns. In these cases, the symptoms and effects of the overlapping diseases will cause them to be more intense and more difficult to manage. When you work with the professionals at Timberline Knolls, they will ensure that the symptoms of any co-occurring disorders or underlying concerns are addressed during your time in our care.
If you’re interested in learning more about the types of concerns that can occur alongside anorexia nervosa, we recommend reviewing information compiled by Eating Disorder Hope, an organization established to help those who are suffering from eating disorders like anorexia nervosa.
This content was reviewed and approved by the clinical staff at Timberline Knolls.