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Anorexia - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Last Updated: Mar 23, 2023

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder which is characterized by unusually low body weight, distorted perception of body weight and fear of becoming fat or obese. People have an obsession with controlling their shape and weight, they usually use a lot of efforts to reduce their body weight and this interferes with their day to day activities. To prevent gaining weight, people will restrict eating a large amount of food. They control their calories by misusing enemas, diuretics, diet aids and laxatives. Sometimes, they also resort to vomiting after eating their meal. It can give you psychological stress about self-worth, body image and social acceptance.

Who gets anorexia?

A person becomes anorexic when he or she starts restricting food. It usually develops in children at the time of puberty. In which 9 out of 10 are female. A person who gets anorexia is malnourished and extremely thin.

How would you know if your loved one has anorexia?

  • Skipping meals
  • Making unusual excuses for not eating food.
  • Eating only foods that are low in calories and fat.
  • Adopting certain eating rituals (spitting food or vomiting after eating) and rigid meal schedule.
  • Cooking meals for others but avoid eating any of it.
  • Checking their weight repeatedly.
  • Checking in the mirror for any perceived flaws.
  • Complaining and whining about being fat.
  • Refusing to eat in public.
  • Eroded teeth and knuckle calluses which occur if they vomit regularly.
  • Covering themselves in a lot of clothes.

What are the symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Physical symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include:

  • Weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Thin appearance
  • Poor concentration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bluish colour of hands and feet

Emotional symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include:

  • Fear of weight gain
  • Feeling overweight
  • Being self-critical
  • Irritated
  • Depressed
  • Getting suicidal thoughts

Behavioural symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa are:

  • Taking diet pills
  • Change in eating habits
  • Wearing loose clothes to hide your body
  • Going to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Excessive exercising
  • Change in food preferences,/li>


What causes anorexia?

  • Biological factors: There can be genetic changes in a person’s body which can make them more prone to developing anorexia. Some people can also have a genetic tendency directed towards perseverance, sensitivity and perfectionism (traits which are associated with it).
  • Psychological factors: Many emotional characteristics can also contribute to it. Women who have OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) are at a higher risk of developing it. This occurs because they can have an excessive drive for perfectionism, this can make them think they’re never too thin enough.
  • Environmental factors: In today’s world, worth and success are equated with being thin. Peer pressure also helps fuel the desire which exists mostly among young girls.

What are the factors that increase the risk in anorexia?

Risks factors which contribute in developing anorexia:

  • If you are a girl, you can be at a higher risk of developing it.
  • Changes in some genes.
  • If one or both your parents have anorexia, there are chances that you can develop too.
  • Artistic and sports-related activities- Models, dancers, actors and athletes are at a higher risk of developing it.

How anorexia affects your body?

Anorexia is not only weight loss but it is more than this. It affects our body mentally and physically. Anorexia nervosa destroys mind, spirit, relationships, and hampers our body badly. People also get killed due to anorexia nervosa.

How is anorexia diagnosed?

There is no specific laboratory test for it. Identification of Anorexia nervosa is challenging at times. Due to which illness remain undetected for a longer period. If the symptoms are present then the doctor will begin an evaluation. A complete physical examination will be performed and medical history will be checked. Various diagnostic tests will be performed like X-rays and blood tests. Which will evaluate the cause of weight loss and what are its effects on the body organs. A person is recommended to a psychiatrist to be treated for mental illness.

What tests are used to diagnose or assess Anorexia?

Tests used to diagnose Anorexia Nervosa are:

  • Complete blood count
  • Albumin blood test
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Urinalysis
  • Bone density test
  • Liver function test
  • Kidney function test
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Hormone tests
  • Vitamin D levels

What is the treatment for anorexia?

Treatment for anorexia can be difficult because people do not accept being ill. Anorexia nervosa is of kind eating disorder thus it also needs the same treatment plan.

  • Physiotherapy: This involves practical techniques for developing an interest in healthy food and weight. It helps to change ways through which the person responds to a difficult situation.
  • Medication: Certain SSRIs or antidepressants are prescribed. This helps control anxiety and depression associated with eating disorders.
  • Nutrition Counselling: This strategy is involved in the treatment for creating a good approach towards healthy food. This also teaches the importance of a healthy diet in life.

Can anorexia be prevented?

In most of the cases, Anorexia cannot be prevented. But if the symptoms start to emerge then the person must be treated quickly. To prevent it from teaching about good and healthy eating habits should be given. Showing changes due to unhealthy food also help to prevent eating disorders.

How to help someone living with anorexia nervosa?

These are the ways in which a person living with anorexia can be helped:

  • Encouraged should be given to a person to seek treatment.
  • A person must be told about good dietary plans.
  • Sitting with them during meal time.
  • Keeping a check on their eating habits.
  • Finding their cause of eating disorder and help them to overcome it.

What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?

Anorexia and Bulimia both are eating disorders but have a slight difference. Different food-related behaviour describes them. It starts from changes in body image. This even results in depression and anxiety. Which leads people to lose weight due to extreme dieting. On the other hand, Bulimia is an unhealthy relationship with food and time. This occurs due to damaged eating cycles. Weight of a person keeps on fluctuating from high to low.

How to recover from anorexia?

  • The first step towards meeting the goals of recovering anorexia is to stick to your treatment plan.
  • Include physical activities in your you regular routine.
  • Practice smart eating habits, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Ask doctors for some nutritional supplement to get back the lost nutrition.

What are the risk factors for developing Anorexia?

The risk factors for developing Anorexia include:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Psychological health
  • Excessive dieting
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Life transitions

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should see a healthcare provider if you have the following severe symptoms of anorexia:

  • Excess weight loss
  • Misusing diet pills or insulin
  • Excessive intake of alcohol
  • Getting suicidal thoughts
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

What are the side effects of Anorexia treatment?

Side effects of Anorexia treatment include:

  • Anaemia
  • Heart problems
  • Loss of muscle
  • Menstrual problems
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Insomnia
  • Bone loss

How to overcome anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is accompanied by malnutrition which severely affects the body. Hence restoration of weight and nutritional health is important to recover from it. There must be an intake of more than 1000 calories per day. Start planning the meals for proper nutritional values. A balanced diet is important for proper caloric intake.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the 4 signs of anorexia?

Four signs of anorexia are dizziness, fatigue, thin appearance and weight loss.

Can anorexia be fully cured?

Yes, anorexia can be cured.

Which problem is common in anorexia?

Common complications of anorexia are heart problems, anaemia, bone loss and loss of muscle.

What do the doctors do if you have anorexia?

If you have anorexia, doctors assist you with a talking session and a weight gain diet plan.

Who is most likely to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa?

Women are most likely to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

Does anorexia permanently damage the brain?

Yes, anorexia can permanently damage your brain, if left untreated.


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Written ByDt. Ms. Archana Desai P.G.In Dietitics,BSc - Dietitics / NutritionDietitian/Nutritionist
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