5 Symptoms of Anorexia

By Samantha Dewitt|Updated September 29, 2022

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where a person takes extreme measures to lose weight, to the point of starving themselves or over-exercising. Anorexia nervosa (commonly known as anorexia) is a psychological disorder, not a choice, and it can be life-threatening. People with anorexia typically have symptoms such as very low BMI (body mass index) and usually see a distorted image of their body, which means they see themselves as being bigger than they are. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa in the article below.

Person struggling with an eating disorder. How to handle the symptoms of an eating disorder, who to contact when you decide that you're struggling with thisWhat to do when you notice symptoms of an eating disorder in yourself or someone else.

Anorexia Is Not A Choice.

People with anorexia are not aware that they have it or they may at first be in denial. It can be hard to convince a person with anorexia that what they are doing isn't safe. A person with anorexia might think that their weight loss attempts are healthy and "needed," when other people can see that they're at a normal weight or underweight. Some of the many warning signs of anorexia that might suggest a person is struggling with anorexia include:

  • Hair that is thinning or falling out
  • Dry skin
  • Always saying that they are cold
  • Refusal to eat
  • Irritability
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Lying about or hiding food

While one of these symptoms alone might not mean that a person is dealing with anorexia nervosa, the presence of several of these symptoms, along with significant weight loss, is a good indication of anorexia. A concerning report by CNN states that the average age of onset for anorexia nervosa in the past was 13 to 17; now that number is as low as 9 to 12 years old. Because of the stigma surrounding anorexia, many people go undiagnosed - especially males who struggle with anorexia. Therefore, it's important that people are aware that anorexia can occur not only in adults of both genders but may also start as early as childhood or adolescence. We'll cover the five anorexia symptoms you shouldn't ignore in more detail later in the article. If you want more information on signs and symptoms of anorexia, the National Eating Disorders Association is a great resource. You can contact the helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

What Causes Anorexia And Other Eating Disorders?

According to McCallum Place, Eating Disorder Centers in St. Louis and Kansas City, anorexia is caused by several different factors. These factors consist of a combination of environment and genetics, which work together to determine whether a person might have a predisposition of developing anorexia or not. While you can't say that genetics are entirely to blame for people developing anorexia, studies have shown that there is a genetic link that can't be ignored. In fact, people who have family members with anorexia nervosa are thought to be as much as 11 times more likely to develop anorexia than someone with no family member history of anorexia.

Other factors that can increase a person's risk of developing anorexia nervosa include a culture that idolizes thinness, stress, careers that require you to be thin (like modeling, for example), peer pressure, dysfunctional families, and childhood trauma.

Anorexia Warning Statistics And Symptoms To Look Out For

Anorexia is misunderstood, but they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and 1 in 5 deaths of a patient is a suicide. Still, anorexia is often not taken seriously, and research into them is underfunded. If you suspect that you or someone you know is displaying anorexia signs, it's important to act fast, because without treatment this illness can have severe consequences.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Although anorexia affects mostly women, it's important to know that men can have anorexia too. To be more specific, one study found that the lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa is approximately 0.9% in women and 0.3% in men. Since anorexia is stereotypically seen as something that only affects women, it is believed that men may be less likely to seek out the help they need, causing a significant number of males with anorexia to go undiagnosed and untreated. The National Eating Disorders Association has a lot of helpful information, including an anorexia screening tool. You can contact the helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Recovering From Anorexia Can Be Slow, But Necessary

Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for anorexia and recovery of anorexia is not always easy, although there are effective treatments available. Successful recovery takes commitment and a team of people that consist of doctors, therapists, and dietitians, but recovering from anorexia can be done. Some of the challenges that need to be overcome in the beginning include medical problems from malnutrition, cultivating healthy eating habits, and therapy to address the psychological aspects of anorexia.

Once the initial treatment is over, recovered patients struggling with anorexia may want to keep in touch with a therapist either with an occasional in-person follow-up or using an online counseling service like BetterHelp. Relapse is common in recovered anorexia nervosa patients, with one study citing relapse rates of approximately 35 to 41%. Therefore, it's always important to have ongoing support ready in the case of a relapse of anorexia. The National Eating Disorders Association has support information that can assist you. You can contact the helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Five Anorexia Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

  1. Extreme Weight Loss

One of the most well-known signs of anorexia nervosa is extreme weight loss. In time, this often gives the person a "skin and bones" look, although it's important to be aware that (despite the stereotype) larger people or people at a healthy weight can also develop anorexia. People with anorexia often try to hide their weight loss by wearing baggy clothes. Patients who have anorexia often try to lose weight by counting calories or limiting the types of food that they eat. 

    2. Dizziness And Fainting

The things that individuals with anorexia do to lose weight are extremely unhealthy and can be detrimental to the body. By starving themselves daily, people with anorexia fail to give their organs the nutrition and energy that they need to function properly. Fainting and dizzy spells are two early signs of anorexia nervosa symptoms to look out for. These moments of dizziness or fainting are often caused by low blood pressure, which is not normal for healthy individuals. Fainting is a symptom that friends and family should watch out for because it can be dangerous.

  1. Loss of Menstrual Periods

Another common and concerning symptom of anorexia in women is amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is when one or more menstrual periods are missed. While this condition can be caused by normal factors like pregnancy and menopause, it can also happen when a poor diet affects the body's hormone production. In some cases, this leads to infertility or difficulty getting pregnant in women with anorexia.

  1. Fatigue and Insomnia

Unfortunately, on the other hand, anorexia makes it so that it is very difficult to fall asleep at night. When we try to go to bed hungry, our body sends us signals to stay awake and feed ourselves before we rest. The problem is that people with anorexia will eat very little for days, which makes it difficult for them to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get a good night's rest. To make matters worse, insomnia brought on by such extreme weight loss puts people with anorexia at higher risk for things like illness and depression.

  1. Irregular Heart Rhythms

Irregular heartbeat is another one of the scary signs of anorexia nervosa. According to the F.E.A.S.T. Eating Disorders Glossary, irregular heart rhythms or cardiac arrhythmias are:

"[A] potentially life-threatening complication of malnutrition and weight loss in anorexia nervosa …" They go on to explain that "[t]hese complications impair cardiac function and output. Common signs of arrhythmia include slowed or erratic heartbeat, low blood pressure, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and fainting. Untreated arrhythmias can lead to cardiac arrest or sudden death."

Anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder are serious illnesses that can affect a person's quality of life and can even be deadly. If you or someone you know is showing one or more of these symptoms of anorexia, it's important to get help as soon as possible. 

Recovering from anorexia can be difficult physically and psychologically. You shouldn't be too hard on yourself if you're in recovery for anorexia and you find that you're struggling to maintain healthy eating habits. 

Treatment For Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms And How To Get Help

Getting professional treatment is crucial when it comes to anorexia. If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia it's essential to get medical and psychological help immediately. A doctor will be able to work with you on getting healthy again, while a mental health professional will be able to help you overcome the psychological aspects of this disorder that keep you from it. In addition, The National Eating Disorders Association has a wealth of helpful information, including an anorexia screening tool. Their website is www.nationaleatingdisorders.organd you can contact the helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

How to handle an eating disorder and the symptoms that come with them. how to be more aware with your friends' eating habits and notice the symptoms that accompany eating disorders.

Anorexia Is Not A Choice.

The psychologists at BetterHelp will help you to understand what's happening to your body and your mind and they can do it in a comfortable environment. This can make it easier for you to open up about everything you're going through. Anorexia is an extremely serious disorder that can cause even more trauma for your body. That's why it's so important to get help right away. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who have been helped with similar issues.

Counselor Reviews: Eating Disorder Therapy And Online Therapy

"I have been working with Carolyn for 6 months now, and have tremendously benefited from her counseling as I support my daughter for Anorexia. Anorexia is a very complex mind-body illness and the family members can play a very important role in the recovery by educating ourselves and understanding her behavior. This allows me to use correct words with her, and watch my own behavior with her so I am supporting her in a healthy manner, and not enabling her illness further. Additionally, my own stress has been very difficult as I watch my sweet daughter go through it, so I had been in need of finding coping skills for myself. Carolyn's expertise, her very compassionate but clear guidelines and feedback to me have made be more confident and capable in dealing with this difficult illness. I am finding a lot of strength from her therapy, and most importantly I am handling my daughter better and can see the difference in my interactions with her. I am thankful to Carolyn for coming into my life when I needed someone to guide me through this. In addition to our weekly video chats, I am able to send her quick texts on the BetterHelp app if an issue arises and I need her thoughts, and Carolyn replies back very quickly with more tips to help me. I have recommended BetterHelp to friends as access to a great therapist like Carolyn would not have been possible for me without this platform... while I also do this from the convenience of my time and home. Thank you Carolyn, and thank you BetterHelp for being here for me!"

This picture showcases a BetterHelp therapist and the reviews that come from former patients

"Working with Carrie has been incredibly helpful, since we began text based sessions a few weeks ago. Carrie is helping me remember my own strength and build new confidence, and I see its effects in every part of my life. She is helping me build a solid foundation for my life, starting with remembering/allowing myself to eat regularly. I need baby steps, and while I felt a bit silly and ashamed to ask for help when I first started with BetterHelp, I am so grateful for the small steps she's helping me work through, and the confidence I'm building as a result of each small step. Thank you, Carrie. To anyone who needs help with a complex set of issues that feel unconquerable, I highly recommend working with Dr. DuPont. She's helped me change my life, and with active engagement, she can help you change yours."

Conclusion On The Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa And How To Address Them 

Anorexia can't define your life anymore when you know what you really want. It's time to take charge and take back control, and it's going to lead to a more fulfilling life. Your relationship with food doesn't have to control you. Take the first step today.

Other Commonly Asked Questions:

  1. What are 4 signs of anorexia?
  2. What are three warning signs of anorexia?
  3. What are 7 signs of anorexia nervosa?
  4. What is the primary symptom of anorexia?
  5. What are signs of not eating enough?
  6. What can mimic anorexia?
  7. What are five signs that someone may have an eating disorder?
  8. What is an example of anorexia?
  9. What is classed as anorexia?
  10. How much do they weigh?
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