Home » Eating Disorders » Blogs » Mental Health Awareness » Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

stock-photo-doctor-shows-information-on-blackboard-anorexia-nervosa-116318101Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where people become concerned about their weight. They try to prevent weight gain and may starve themselves to achieve this. Anorexia nervosa is not about weight, but mostly an unhealthy way to cope with emotional problems. Thinness to them equates to self-worth. According to Wikipedia, “Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by immoderate food restriction, inappropriate eating habits or rituals, obsession with having a thin figure, and an irrational fear of weight gain. It is accompanied by a distorted body self-perception, and typically involves excessive weight loss.” It is mostly diagnosed in females than in males. This post will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment for anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa usually develops during early adolescence and mostly affects caucasians and people in middle to upper socioeconomic groups. Environmental factors can be a contributing cause. Our culture puts an emphasis on thinness.  There are professional requirements such as models, dancers, actors, gymnasts where thinness is desirable and if you are not “thin enough” you will not achieve your professional goals or become successful. Media plays a role into how thin a woman should be in order to be considered beautiful or acceptable. Some may go to certain extremes in order to be liked and accepted by others (peer pressure).

Anorexia is a harmful disorder and a lot of people with anorexia do not recognize that they have an illness. They may believe that they are not thin enough and go to extremes to achieve a goal that is harmful to their health. This can lead to death, heart problems, bone loss, or kidney problems. Every organ in the body can be damaged if they are severely malnourished.

Symptoms for Anorexia Nervosa

Some people with anorexia lose weight by restricting the amount of calories they eat. They may excessively exercise, use laxatives, diuretics or enemas. Others may even binge and purge, similar to bulimia which will be explained in a later post. Anorexia has physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Looks extremely thin
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Fainting
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Cannot tolerate the cold

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Flat mood
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Social withdrawal

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Will not eat
  • Exercise excessively
  • Use of laxatives
  • May wear big clothes to disguise their thinness
  • Refuses to eat

If you are unsure if someone you know may have anorexia, you should look for red flags such as self esteem related to body image, intense fear of gaining weight, preoccupation about their weight, frequent comments about being “fat,” developing food rituals, excuses to avoid situations involving food.


The causes of anorexia are unknown however certain factors may play a role into developing this illness. Biological components such as genetics may contribute to developing this disorder. Certain people may have a tendency towards perfectionism and perseverance which are characteristics of anorexia and low levels of serotonin may also play a role to developing anorexia. Family history may also play a role. If a first degree relative had the disorder, there may be a possibility of developing the disorder. Psychological components can also be a contributing factor. Emotional stress or having obsessive thinking that they are not thin enough may end up starving themselves or limit the amount of foods they eat.


Treatment involves a combination of dietitians, mental health professionals, and medical professionals. Each professional should have experience working with eating disorders. Psychotherapy such as family therapy, group therapy and individual therapy are recommended. Medications should be consulted with a medical professional. In some cases, hospitalizations such as psychiatric or medical hospitalizations are required. Specialized eating disorder programs may also be recommended for longer treatment and ongoing therapy.



Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

Helen Nieves

Helen Nieves is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Attention Deficit Consultant Specialist. She teaches ADHD on line and is on the Advisory Board at The American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She also received advanced training in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and in Grief Counseling.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Nieves, H. (2015). Understanding Anorexia Nervosa. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Apr 2015
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.