Guide To Understanding Anorexia Part 1/2

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia Nervosa, often just called Anorexia, is an eating
disorder wherein an individual has a distorted body image. This
misperception leads to an avoidance of food and severely
restricted caloric consumption. Low body weight and an intense
fear of gaining weight are characteristic traits. Anorexia is a
psychophysiological disorder which, if left untreated, can
eventually lead to death.

Who might be at risk of developing Anorexia?

Anyone can develop an eating disorder, however there are
certain individuals who seem to have an increased risk. Women
are, of course, more likely to develop an eating disorder than
are men. That said, the rates of Anorexia Nervosa in men is
increasing somewhat. More research is needed to determine the
cause of eating disorders, however those at risk may include
high strung individuals with a stringent set of ideals. People
who exhibit perfectionism in their pursuits both academically
and extracurricular. Someone with a family history of obesity.
An individual prone to dieting on a regular basis. A history
of physical or sexual abuse. Someone who has been subject to
bullying and/or teasing. Elite athletes who believe their
success depends on maintaining and achieving a certain ideal
weight. Aspiring to a profession which focuses on weight and
appearance (dancers, models, actresses, etc.) Someone who
struggles with depression or anxiety. A tendency toward
addictive behaviors, perhaps manifest in alcohol or substance

What are the signs and symptoms of Anorexia?

The symptoms of Anorexia can be easy to hide, initially, but to
a concerned and watchful parent they should become relatively
easy to spot, particularly as the disorder progresses. Keep in
mind, however, that generally the person suffering from the
eating disorder will feel guilt and shame and will try to
prevent anyone from noticing their struggles. Warning signs may
●A refusal to eat certain foods. This may be in the form
of cutting out an entire food group, i.e. carbohydrates, sugar,
fat. It may also be just individual foods like no longer eating
beef or refusing to eat bread.
●Always being `on a diet’. This can become a common
excuse for avoiding food and social situations where food may
be served. It is so common for young women, in particular, to
be on a diet that until the weight loss becomes excessive this
may not be considered a problem.
●Strange eating patterns. Cutting up food into tiny
pieces, chewing each bite a certain number of times, eating
only one food at a time, refusing to let foods touch, pushing
food around the plate.
●Excessive exercise. Anything more than an hour per day
of high intensity exercise would be considered excessive. Many
elite athletes do exercise more than this, but for the average
young woman this could be cause for concern. Current
recommendations are 2-3 days per week of weight bearing
exercise with 8-12 repetitions of the exercise per body part.
3-5 days of cardiorespiratory training for 20-60 minutes per
session. 2-3 days per week of flexibility training.
●Wearing baggy clothes to hide her figure. This could be
because the individual feels fat and wants to hide her supposed
horrible figure. It could also be an attempt to hide the
excessive weight loss from not eating. Additionally, sometimes
there is a desire to avoid growing up and baggy clothing can
hide the fact that a womanly figure is emerging.
●Preoccupation with food. Wanting specific information
on nutritional values of foods, knowing the exact fat and
calorie content of foods, talking about and thinking about food
all of the time.
●Weight loss. This is a relatively obvious sign, however
initially the weight loss may be seen as a good thing. If the
young woman was somewhat overweight, the initial weight loss
may be complimented. This acknowledgment and attention may
feed the desire to lose even more weight. Anorexics typically
can get down to less than 85% of normal height and weight for
●Sensitivity to cold. Loss of body fat leaves the body
sensitive to temperature and feeling cold when everyone around
is comfortable.
●Labeling foods `good’ `bad’ etc. Giving a moral
connotation to the foods available and feeling guilty for
eating `bad’ foods. Eventually even healthy foods can be
designated as `bad’ because of a high calorie content. Good
examples of this would be nuts and avocado.
●Dizziness or lightheadedness. Drop in blood pressure,
dehydration, iron deficiency anemia. All can lead to dizziness
and lightheadedness. This may be particularly sensitive to
change in position.
●Frequent headaches.
●Avoidance of social situations which may involve food.
As mentioned above, the excuse that she is “on a diet” may be
used to avoid social situations. People who have Anorexia
don’t necessarily want people watching them eat. This may be
because they don’t want people analyzing what, if anything,
they are eating. Additionally, it could just be a way of
avoiding the temptation of food. It is a common misperception
that Anorexics don’t get hungry. This is not the case. They do
feel hunger, but their fear of weight gain and desire to be `in
control’ of their appetite is stronger than their hunger.
●Absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea). Strict
dieting and excessive exercise can lead to a disruption in the
flow of hormones. Consequently, the body doesn’t produce
enough estrogen and progesterone. Ovulation is suppressed and
menstruation stops.
●Anxiety and/or depression. This is a vicious cycle in
regards to eating disorders. Feelings of anxiety, depression,
and low self worth can lead to Anorexia. The physical and
mental effects of the Anorexia can lead to even more depression
and anxiety. The eating disorder and depression continue to
feed off of each other, each aggravating the other.
●Eating rituals such as only using a certain cup to drink
out of or always insisting on a certain fork. These are small
methods of exerting control over the environment where food is
●Increased interest in food, cooking, collecting cook
books etc. Although someone with Anorexia will avoid eating,
the hunger causes a huge interest in food. Being around food
and providing food for others become almost an obsession as the
body fights for the nutrients it needs but is being deprived of.

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