Anorexia nervosa – often simply called anorexia- is an eating disorder that causes a person to have an unhealthy relationship with food. There are many telltale signs of anorexia. It is characterized by an abnormal fear of gaining weight. People who have this disorder often have dangerously low body weight as well as a distorted perception of their weight.
Anorexia affects women three times more than men. It is estimated that one in 200 American women and one in 70 American men suffer from anorexia. However, studies suggest that men have a higher risk of suffering severe health problems or even death from anorexia compared to women, partly because men are more likely to be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. It is even more difficult to detect since men and women might display different signs of anorexia.
Types of Anorexia
There are two general types of anorexia: restricting and binging-purging. When people suffer from the restricting type of anorexia, they place drastic restrictions on the type and amount of food that they consume. More often than not, these foods will have very little caloric and/or nutritional content. They will also skip meals or engage in counting calories for whatever food they eat.
The second type of anorexia is characterized by binging excessively on food, which is immediately followed by purging. The purging can be done through forced vomiting or taking high amounts of laxatives and diuretics.
Anorexia vs. Bulimia
The second type of anorexia is similar to bulimia, particularly because of the cycle of binging and purging food. However, the
main difference is that people who have anorexia will restrict their caloric intake obsessively while binging-purging. On the other hand, those who have bulimia do not usually restrict their caloric intake.
What Causes Anorexia?
Anorexia can be caused by a combination of different factors, namely biological, environmental, and psychological. It is difficult to pinpoint one root cause of the disorder, and these factors are often intertwined.
While it is still unclear if anorexia can be caused by genetics, there are studies that suggest that anorexia and other eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa are at least influenced by genetics. People who suffer from anorexia often have family members who struggle with the disorder as well.
To support this theory, another study has suggested that people who have anorexic family members are at risk by as much as eleven times compared to the general population.
Mental health issues can often trigger anorexia. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder have a high risk of developing eating disorders, possibly due to the propensity to have obsessive thoughts. Since people with anorexia are abnormally focused on their weight and body perception, OCD and anorexia can go hand-in-hand.
People who suffer from depression and anxiety can also develop anorexia due to their mental health condition. Anorexia comes from feeling inadequate, which leads to frustration, stress, and self-loathing. To “boost” their morale, people turn to slim down to look and feel good. This often leads to becoming drastic and unhealthy.
Environmental factors are often the easiest ones to pinpoint. Many people become anorexic because they are in a situation that values thinness. This is why around 40% of models suffer from some form of an eating disorder.
There are many other sources of environmental triggers. It can be something as deep-seated as family members who make jokes about weight and appearance, to something as pervasive as a culture that places too much importance on physical appearance and looking “sexy”.
5 Common Signs of Anorexia
It can be difficult to look for signs of anorexia. Even physical signs of anorexia can easily be overlooked or misdiagnosed. This is why it might be easier to look for common symptoms instead of signs. Symptoms usually include changes in behavior, eating patterns, or relationship with food.
Here are 5 common symptoms of anorexia that you should watch out for:
Obsessive Calorie Counting
One of the most obvious symptoms to look out for is obsessive calorie counting. While it’s normal for people to think about how many calories they are consuming, anorexic people take it to another level.
They will often break down the exact caloric content of each portion of a meal, to the point where they will set a limit and strictly follow it. If they have reached their limit, they will refuse to eat or drink anything further.
Distorted Body Image
People with anorexia are hyper-focused on their bodily appearance. They believe that they are bigger than they really are, and that anorexia is the only way to achieve the physical look that they want.
You will often see them repeatedly checking their appearance in the mirror or checking their weight on a scale.
Another common symptom is excessive exercising, even to the point of pain or injury. People who have anorexia will feel guilty, angry, or frustrated when they miss a workout. This can trigger a more severe episode of refusing to eat or restricting caloric intake.
Unhealthy Relationship with Food
An unhealthy relationship with food is common with many anorexic people. They will often avoid eating a particular type of food (usually carbohydrates) or even eliminate it from their diet altogether.
They can also have specific food rituals, such as eating food in a certain order, eating too quickly or too slowly, or even measuring the size, weight, and portion sizes of the food items.
Extreme Mood Swings
The final common symptom that you need to watch out for is extreme mood swings. These usually occur in conjunction with food-related circumstances. They can get angry, withdrawn, or sullen if they are invited to eat.
However, take note that it can be difficult to judge mood swings as a sole symptom of anorexia. If there are frequent extreme mood swings that usually follow a food-related incident, that could be a clearer sign of anorexia.
What Should I Do If I or a Loved One Has Anorexia?
If you have anorexia or you have a loved one who is suffering from this disorder, it is essential that you find professional help. Contact us at Riverwalk Recovery at (856) 475-6166 and we can explain our eating disorder program and answer your questions. You can also check the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. This organization provides support and outreach to people who are suffering from eating disorders. They can help if you start to see signs of anorexia.