Symptoms of anorexia nervosa – you can recognize it by these signs

Anorexia symptoms: Woman with eating disorder

Anorexia, also known as Anorexia Nervosa (Briefly Anorexia) is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss and a severe fear of gaining weight. In addition, sufferers find it difficult to maintain an appropriate weight over the long term.

Generally, people with anorexia limit the number of calories and type of food consumed. They often eat so little that they cannot maintain basic bodily functions, which can lead to serious health complications and even death. Those affected tend to perceive themselves as overweight, even when they are very thin (distorted body image).

Anorexia can occur in all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. This eating disorder increases the mortality risk of young people tenfold (1) and it has one of the highest mortality rates among sufferers with mental disorders and a high relapse rate.

Overview

Only after a diagnosis do family members and friends usually realize how many behaviors and changes are related to the eating disorder. After all, anorexia nervosa truly affects all areas of a person’s life.

Although it is a disorder that disproportionately affects women and most often begins in early to mid-adolescence, it also affects men and boys and can be diagnosed in both children and older adults.

It’s important to recognize that eating disorders can occur in people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.

Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening psychiatric disorder and the deadliest eating disorder with one of the highest mortality rates of all mental disorders. People with anorexia nervosa often do not believe they are ill and may try to hide their low weight.

This is not a complete list of signs and symptoms, and many people with anorexia do not have all of the items listed below. In addition, these signs and symptoms are not always specific to anorexia and may reflect other disease states as well.

Physical symptoms

Anorexia is characterized by eating too little of the food you eat. Physical symptoms are due to the body being deprived of essential nutrients as the body is forced to conserve its resources in order to survive (2).

Many of these physical symptoms only occur in severe cases of anorexia nervosa. They can also be symptoms of other conditions, so it’s important to get checked out by a doctor to make a proper diagnosis and get an appropriate treatment plan (3).

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemic and easy bruising (4)
  • Brittle nails
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Constipation
  • Fluffy hair all over the body (called lanugo hair); body tries to retain heat through this (5)
  • Dry and thinning hair
  • Extreme dehydration
  • Hair loss on the scalp
  • Lightheadedness or loss of balance (can lead to fainting)
  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis (6))
  • In women: Loss or delay of menstruation
  • Low blood pressure and heart rate
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Significantly low body weight

Behavioral symptoms

These are signs that are often noticed externally by family members and/or by friends of an affected person (1). May be noticed a little earlier than some of the physical signs:

  • Complains of abdominal pain
  • Cooks for others but refuses to eat what is cooked himself or herself
  • Does not admit to being hungry
  • Urge to exercise even in inappropriate circumstances such as bad weather or at the time of an appointment or date
  • Eating unusual food combinations
  • Extreme perfectionism (7)
  • Tires quickly
  • Insists on wearing winter clothes even when it is warm outside
  • Always has an excuse to avoid eating (z.B. "I’ve already eaten")
  • Hides foods to avoid eating them
  • Seems obsessed with cooking, cookbooks, cooking shows, or other food-related topics
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or whole food groups (such as carbohydrates or desserts)
  • Strange eating habits or eating rituals, such as the use of certain utensils
  • Sudden and extreme changes, such as.B. Eating a vegan diet or refusing to eat certain foods
  • Talks about fears of weight gain or obesity even when losing weight
  • Talks or thinks about food, weight, calories and dieting so much that normal conversation is avoided
  • Weighs self often, looks in mirror frequently or checks size of certain body parts
  • Withdraws from friends and family

Emotional symptoms

Some of these symptoms may be more difficult for outsiders to recognize (1). However, many family members and close friends should be able to notice those warning signs.

  • Anxiety (8)
  • Depression (9)
  • Impact on self-esteem or attractiveness based on appearance and weight
  • Mild irritability
  • Extreme self-criticism
  • Little motivation to get involved in relationships or activities
  • Strong need for recognition and validation

It is important to note that not all people with anorexia nervosa are emaciated. Anorexia can also be diagnosed in individuals who have recently lost a great deal of weight and would be considered by many to be of "normal weight". If you or someone you know is showing signs of anorexia, you should seek help from a doctor or health care professional.

Find out in the free self-test whether you have an eating disorder.

A final word from Mentalwohl

Most symptoms and signs of anorexia are reversible with treatment. If you or a loved one suffers from anorexia, it’s likely to take some time to recover. However, talking to a doctor and seeking support from loved ones are some helpful first steps on the road to recovery.

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