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Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

What is anorexia nervosa?


Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by the refusal to maintain an expected body weight through food restriction which is caused by a distorted body image and a fear of gaining weight. Anorexia nervosa is typically found more often in females than in males, although both men and women can be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. In the past decade, the number of diagnosed cases of anorexia nervosa has steadily risen and the average age of anorexia nervosa ones has steadily decreased—the average age of onset for anorexia nervosa is now 9 to 12 years of age, whereas it was previously 12 to 17 years of age. Anorexia nervosa is considered to be one of the most fatal mental disorders because of the extreme complications that lowered body weight, food restriction, and other behaviors associated with anorexia nervosa—such as consuming diet pills or syrup of ipecac —can cause. Studies have shown that anorexia nervosa may be easier to treat when it is diagnosed relatively early on in the disease, rather than when it has been developing for years. It is therefore important for both professionals and family members to understand the various signs and symptoms that can help spot a potential case of anorexia nervosa in a patient or loved one.

Preoccupation with weight loss and body image

Someone with anorexia nervosa will often be consumed with thoughts about losing weight, body size, and body image. They may buy books and magazines related to weight loss and dieting or subscribe to numerous websites dedicated to helping people lose weight. Although an interest in weight loss is not necessarily an indicator of anorexia nervosa, it can be a sign when taken into context with other factors, such as an underweight appearance or an unhealthy obsession with calories, and so on.

Development of lanugo

Lanugo refers to soft, fine hairs which grow over the face and body. Lanugo is believed to develop in cases when people suffering from anorexia nervosa are deficient in daily nutrients and maintain a low body weight which makes it necessary for the body to generate hair as a protective covering.

Obsession with fat, calories and “bad” foods

Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

It may be normal for someone who is losing weight to become healthier to have an interest in calories, fat and carbohydrates—but someone with anorexia nervosa will take this interest to an obsession. Obsessively counting calories—such as counting calories in pieces of gum or hard candy—and avoiding any food with a trace of fat in it may be an indicator of a larger problem.

Purging behavior

Purging behavior refers to using methods to rid the body of food or calories. These methods include self-induced vomiting, ingesting laxatives or water pills, as well as obsessively exercising off calories that were just consumed. Someone with anorexia nervosa, especially the binge/purge type of anorexia nervosa, may resort to purging behaviors to rid themselves of food, especially after normal meals with family or friends that are considered unhealthy or fattening.


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