Anorexia Nervosa which is often just referred to as anorexia is a type of eating disorder. It is a psychological disorder which can produce many medical problems. Anorexia Nervosa can be considered a kind of “out-of-control” dieting. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says an estimated 0.5% to 3.7% of women will suffer from this disorder at some point in their lives.

Types and Criteria

  • Restricting Type: During the current episode of illness, the person restricsts food intake and has not regularly engaged in binge eating or purging behaviors.
  • Binge/Purge: During the current episode of illness, the person has regularly engaged in binge-eating or purging behaviors (i.e., self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas).

Criteria for Anorexia:

  • LOW WEIGHT: Refusal to maintain body weight at or above minimally normal weight for age and height (e.g., body weight less than 85% of expected)
  • WEIGHT PHOBIA: Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
  • BODY IMAGE ISSUES: Disturbances in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the current low body weight. i.e. believing you are fat when you are not, making your weight the only thing you judge yourself on, denying medical seriousness of your low weight.
  • LOSS OF MENSTRUAL PERIOD: (AMENORRHEA) Absence of at least 3 consecutive periods – if periods occur only following hormone administration, it is still considered amenorrhea.

Warning Signs

  • Loss of menstrual period
  • Dieting obsessively when not overweight / a relentless pursuit of thinness
  • Claiming to feel “fat” when overweight is not a reality
  • Preoccupation with food, calories, nutrition, and/or cooking
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive exercising, being over active
  • Frequent weighing
  • Strange food related behaviors (labeling of food as “good/safe” or “bad/dangerous”)
  • Binge episodes
  • 15% or more below normal body weight
  • Depression, irritability, withdrawal, compulsive rituals
  • Low tolerance for change, fear of growing up or assuming adult responsibilities
  • Hair loss

Physical Complications

The most common complications leading to death in Anorexia Nervosa are:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Fluid imbalance
  • Suicide
  • Kidney failure
  • Electrolyte Imbalance

Other physical symptoms seen with Anorexia:

  • Osteoporosis or Osteopenia (thinning of the bones)
  • Dry, yellowish skin
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Anemia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Repeated constipation
  • Low body temperature
  • Person feels lethargic
  • Person feels cold all the time
  • Low blood pressure and slower pulse
  • Languno (excessive growth of fine hair on body)

See the diagram below on how anorexia affects the entire body: