Definition of Anorexia
About the Author
Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author of One Size Does NOT Fit All Diet Plan, one of Amazon's Top Gluten-Free and Weight Loss Diets. (You may read more about Abby at the bottom of this article.)
Help & Hotlines for Anorexia Nervosa
- Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD)
- Phone: 630-577-1330 (Monday - Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM)
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
- Phone: 800-931-2237 (Monday - Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM)
- Click to Chat
- Eating Disorders Support
- Phone: 01494 793223 (24 hour hotline)
Eating Disorders: Anorexia
Eating disorders come in many forms, from not eating at all to overeating and purging. Anorexia nervosa, or simply "anorexia," is probably the most commonly discussed eating disorder. According to the National Library of Medicine, anorexia is:
"an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height. Persons with this disorder may have an intense fear of weight gain, even when they are underweight. They may diet or exercise too much or use other ways to lose weight."
As the definition implies, individuals who suffer with anorexia ("anorexics") have an intense fear of weight gain, even when they are already small people and don't have much body fat to lose. Not only do they have ineffective coping strategies with nutrition, they also have problems with body image, low self-esteem, personal identity, and perceived control. Following is a list of potential causes of, or associations with eating disorders that include anorexia1:
- low self-esteem
- feelings of inadequacy
- depression, anxiety, anger, and loneliness
- trouble expressing emotions
- narrow definitions of a "good body"
- lack of control in life
- troubled relationships (personal / family)
- history of being teased about weight
- history of physical and/or sexual abuse
- cultural pressures
- cultural norms
In addition to the above causes or associations with eating disorders, those specific to anorexia include:
- biological or genetic
- emotional or psychological
- sociocultural origins
Anorexia is a complicated disease, but most can be healed if treatment is sought early enough.
Who is Affected by Anorexia
In the United States, millions suffer from eating disorders each year. More than 90 percent of those with eating disorders, as well as anorexia, are teenage girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 25 years old.2 The reason why so many young women are prevalent to eating disorders may be dieting and the desire to have an "ideal" body image as portrayed in the media of western cultures.
Though most tend to think of women having anorexia, approximately 10 percent of men do suffer with the illness.3
Because statistics show that most anorexics are young women, research has shown that girls under the age of 10 have suffered, as well as women over the age of 40. Unfortunately, it's difficult to pinpoint who may have anorexia because so many try to hide their disease with baggy clothing, pretending to eat, and denying their symptoms. Therefore, statistical gatherings may not be truly accurate.
Though it was once thought that anorexics originated from middle or high income families, research has shown that eating disorders affect every socioeconomic class and ethnicity.
Anorexics tend to be perfectionists, good students, and even excellent athletes. They rarely break rules or disobey, and they tend to hide their feelings. It is believed that they restrict foods, especially carbohydrate calories, to gain a sense of control in some part of their lives which offers them the advantages of taking control of their own bodies and gaining the approval of their family, friends, and anyone else in their lives.
Anorexia is one of the TOP 3 crucial illnesses in teens and young adults. If your child exhibits any of the following signs or symptoms, please seek help immediately. But, please continue reading to find out the do's and don'ts of how to talk with your loved one.
Signs of Anorexia
Most anorexics usually keep their illness to themselves. Therefore, it may be difficult for family, friends, teachers, and co-workers to identify someone with anorexia. However, anorexia is the most commonly discussed eating disorder because it has the most tragic findings once the illness has been discovered. Though 60 percent of those who suffer from anorexia are fully treated and healed, another 20 percent are only healed partially. Another 20 percent stay dangerously underweight while some will die from their illness.4
If you are someone who suffers from anorexia, please get help immediately. Ask your parents, siblings, or friends. If you don't have anyone to help you, seek attention from your physician. If you are someone who knows someone with anorexia, please get them help as soon as possible. The illness is not something to disregard as it can be detrimental. If you're not sure if someone has anorexia but are suspect, you may look for any of the following signs. These signs are usually a prelude to the symptoms that later follow. Getting help before physical signs occur is best as treatment is most successful at this point. Anorexia is characterized by:
- a disturbed sense of body image
- a morbid fear of obesity
- a refusal to maintain a minimally healthy body weight
- a denial of hunger
- a refusal to eat or eating very little
- a preoccupation of food preparation
- a need to weigh food or count calories
- a refusal to eat certain types of foods (mostly carbohydrates)
- a habit of moving food around the plate rather than eating
- a regimen of diet pills
- a need to purge (i.e., vomit, urinate, or excrete bowels)
- a bizarre eating behavior
- an excessive need exercise (rain or shine)
More Eating Disorder Help
Academy for Eating Disorders (AED)
Anorexia Nervosa and Eating Disorders (ANAD)
Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA)
Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC)
National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (NAMED)
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NIH, HHS
National Mental Health Information Center, SAMHSA, HHS
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Women's Health
Anorexia Symptoms (Physical)
Because anorexics are so scared of gaining weight, they severely reject food, causing extreme weight loss. In turn, this causes them a majority of problems that affect their entire body. Below are just some of the symptoms, but this is not an exhaustive list. Additionally, every symptom will not be exhibited by all anorexics:
- physical growth and development have stopped (puberty stage)
- fatigue and insomnia
- unfocused thinking
- emotional and sometimes mental instability
- electrolyte abnormalities
- kidney problems
- hormonal imbalances
- amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation)
- sexual dysfunction
- depressed metabolism
- lung problems
- bone loss and fractures
- abnormal heart rhythms
- heart failure
If you have anorexia, do yourself a favor and get help immediately. If you don't have anorexia but know someone who does, don't ignore the problems. If you notice any of the signs or symptoms mentioned in this hub, please seek help for your loved one before it is too late. If not treated immediately, anorexics can suffer physically for the rest of their lives. Even worse, they can die. In fact, anorexics have the highest death rate of any mental illness. In fact, five to 20 percent will die from the disease.5
How to Help Someone With an Eating Disorder
- Set aside private time to talk without any chance of being disrupted.
- Be honest and tell your friend about your concerns lovingly.
- Ask your friend to seek out professional help, and offer to go with him or her.
- Never place blame or guilt on your friend. He or she probably already feels shame.
- Never give solutions to your friend. The problem is real and needs professional help.
- Let your friend know you will always be available for him or her.
Have you ever known anyone with anorexia nervosa?
If you or a loved one has anorexia, help is not far out of your reach. Physicians, nutritionists, therapists, support groups, family, and friends will all make up a team of care. With this team, the person suffering from anorexia will get the help he or she needs in treating the whole being. Physically, he or she will gain weight to a healthy size. Psychologically, he or she will be treated for the underlying causes of the illness. Sometimes, both prescription medication and psychotherapy are needed for treatment.
Depending on the patient, he or she may need "hospitalization" through a rehabilitation center specifically designed for anorexia or eating disorders. Others may opt for outpatient treatment where he or she returns home for sleep. Good treatment plans usually take months if not years. Much of the treatment includes ongoing support groups that will help the patient stay on track. Like any other addiction or illness, relapses can occur if treatment is cut short. Staying the course is extremely important.
Just know that help is available and open to you if should need it. If you are exhibiting signs and symptoms of anorexia, please tell a family member or your physician. You may also contact the helplines given within this hub. Don't wait around until it may be too late.
If you don't have anorexia but know of someone who does, please don't ignore the problem. This is a real and dangerous illness. Take the steps listed to your right to get your loved help right away.
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About the author
Abby Campbell, BSc, SFN, SSN, CPT, is a leading professional fitness and nutrition expert, researcher, and published author. For the past 10 years, she has coached thousands of women locally and online to lose body fat and lead healthy lifestyles. Her clients have lost thousands of pounds, reclaimed health, and call her “Coach No Gimmick.” She is from Northern Virginia but now resides near Charlotte, North Carolina. Abby has been married for 20 years and has three grown daughters, one of which is autistic. She is a 19 year cancer survivor.
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 Berardi, J. & Andrews, R. (2009). Special Needs: Eating Disorders. International Sports Sciences Association. Nutrition: The Complete Guide (243-244). Carpinteria, CA: International Sports Sciences Association.
 Wexner Medical Center. Anorexia Nervosa. The Ohio State University. Retrieved from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/mental_health/mental_health_about/eating/anorexia_nervosa/Pages/index.aspx.
 Mirror-Mirror Eating Disorders. Anorexia Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.mirror-mirror.org/anorexia-statistics.htm.
 Shaw, G. (2007, November 8). Anorexia: The Body Neglected. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/anorexia-nervosa/features/anorexia-body-neglected.