Eating Disorders
(Including Anorexia and Bulimia)

Symptoms of Anorexia

By Toby Goldsmith, M.D., Sue Craven, Ph.D. and John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
05-Oct-2005

In the Eating Disorders Series:

Right now, 1 percent of all American women -- our sisters, mothers and daughters -- are starving themselves; some literally starving and exercising themselves to death. Eating disorders are becoming an epidemic, especially among our most promising young women. These women and girls, whom we admire and adore, feel a deep sense of inadequacy and ineffectiveness. Anorexia nervosa is a confusing, complex disease that many people know too little about.

There is no blame in anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is not an indication that parents have gone wrong in raising their children. Cultural, genetic and personality factors interact with life events to initiate and maintain eating disorders.

Anorexia is not fun. Many people who strive to lose weight state, "I wish I were anorexic." They fail to recognize the wretchedness of the disease. Anorexia is not about feeling thin, proud and beautiful; if you take the time to listen to an anorexic you will hear that they feel fat, unattractive and inadequate. They are scared and trapped.

Anorexia is not something sufferers can just "snap out of." Anorexics' minds are not their own; they are possessed by thoughts of weight, body image, food and calories. Many sufferers are not even free of the disease in their sleep, troubled by dreams of food, eating and exercise. Anorexia is an awful, lonely experience that often takes years to conquer.

Anorexia is hard on everyone involved. Living with someone with anorexia nervosa can be exasperating and confusing. To those who do not understand the complexity of the disorder, the sufferer's behavior seems selfish and manipulative. It is often hard to remember that eating disorders are a manifestation of profound unhappiness and distress.

Anorexia can be deadly. It has one of the highest fatality rates of any mental illness. If you or someone you know shows the signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, take action, get educated and seek help.

Specific Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

A person who suffers from this disorder is typically characterized by their refusal to maintain a body weight which is consistent with their build, age and height. Specifically, a person's body weight needs to be 85% or less than that which is considered typical for someone of similar build, age and height.

The individual usually experiences an intense and overwhelming fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. This fear is regardless of the person's actual weight, and will often continue even when the person is near death from starvation. It is related to a person's poor self-image, which is also a symptom of this disorder. The individual suffering from this disorder believes that their body weight, shape and size is directly related to how good they feel about themselves and their worth as a human being. Persons with this disorder often deny the seriousness of their condition and can not objectively evaluate their own weight.

At least three consecutive menstrual cycles must be missed, if the woman was menstruating previously before the onset of the disorder. Specifically, a woman is considered to have amenorrhea if her periods occur only following hormone, e.g., estrogen, administration.

There are two types of anorexia nervosa:

  • Restricting type -- The person restricts their food intake on their own and does not engage in binge-eating or purging behavior.
  • Binge eating/purging type -- The person self-induces vomiting or misuses laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

The Body Mass Calculator is one simple way to calculate your healthy weight.

» Next in Series: Symptoms of Bulimia



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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2013
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