Because most cases of anorexia nervosa are caused by dissatisfaction with the sufferer’s outward appearance (especially weight), people with this condition don’t eat enough to stay healthy.
An intense fear of gaining weight and a restrictive diet are the two primary characteristics of the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. It’s a serious mental health problems, but it’s usually recognised physically as a result of extreme weight loss. Many people with the condition will judge themselves and their worth based on their weight, resulting in intense anxiety over the idea of gaining weight or failing to lose weight.
Anorexia can affect absolutely anyone. Increasing numbers of anorexia cases are being reported in children as young as seven, boys, men and women aged 40 and over, but the condition is most common in young females and those assigned female at birth. Anorexia’s main symptoms is a compulsion to keep the body weight lower than is healthy for a person’s age and height, or deliberately losing a lot of weight.
Other symptoms and signs might include…
- Avoiding eating any foods seen as “fattening”, missing meals or only eating small amounts;
- Using diet and slimming pills and other appetite suppressants to reduce hunger;
- Intense anxiety or fear over the prospect of weight gain;
- Feeling positive about losing large amounts of weight;
- Refusing to accept that extreme weight loss is a serious issue;
- Believing you are fat when you are a healthy weight or underweight;
- Strict rituals around eating;
- Exercising too much, making yourself sick, or using laxatives or diuretics to help you go to the bathroom and try to avoid gaining weight;
- Lying about what and when you’ve eaten, and how much you weigh.
Why Do People Develop Anorexia Nervosa?
Everyone’s triggers or reasons for developing anorexia can be very different – there is no single, universal cause. A combination of different factors often lie at the root of the problem.
Body image is highly important in our modern society. If our bodies don’t fit the model of what is a “good body”, we’re encouraged to feel ashamed because our society functions on the belief that how we look reflects our worth.
How we feel about ourselves and our bodies can easily be impacted by this background. While an eating disorder won’t be directly caused by these social and cultural pressures, the pressure to look and act in a certain way can trigger the development of an eating disorder in someone who is already vulnerable to one.
Anorexia often develops as a result of low self esteem. Feeling like you aren’t good enough or don’t have any worth is very common in people with this condition. In these cases, a sense of worth can come from the ability to take control of the diet and lose lots of weight to feel like an achievement has been made.
Anorexia appears often to affect people with certain personality traits such as perfectionism. There are also a number of other psychological factors that might come into play, such as…
- Self-harm, anxiety, depression and similar mental health conditions;
- Compulsive and obsessive tendencies;
- Struggling with stress and life as a whole.
What Should I Be Looking Out For?
A preoccupation with dieting and food forms the basis for most of anorexia’s early warning signs. Over time, this preoccupation may begin to have a larger and larger impact on the person’s life as their behaviours become more obsessive and compulsive. Relationships with family and friends may begin to become strained as disordered patterns begin to become more noticeable, and the person’s career and schooling may be disrupted.
The following are some of the early warning signs you should be looking out for if you’re concerned that you or someone you care about has an eating disorder.
- Turning down food;
- Reduced ability to concentrate;
- Avoiding meals;
- Limiting themselves to foods that are low in fat and calories, or otherwise considered “safe”;
- Carefully weighing or measuring portions;
- Cooking elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat;
- Picking up unusual eating rituals like spitting food out after chewing or chopping food up small;
- Making excuses for not eating;
- Obsession with body size and shape;
- Denial of hunger, even when starving.
Where an abnormal obsession with food exists, there are also a selection of other behaviours that can be seen as warning signs for anorexia or another eating disorder:
- Exercising too much;
- Weighing themselves more often than usual;
- Wearing layered clothing or clothes that are too big;
- Complaining about being fat;
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws;
- Flat mood, or lack of emotion.
Anorexia’s Physical Indicators
As well as the behavioural signs listed above, there are also a number of physical symptoms that could point to Anorexia Nervosa (though they can be harder to spot unless the individual is complaining of them). These include:
- Gastrointestinal complaints like acid reflux, constipation and stomach cramps;
- Slow heart rate, low iron count in the blood, low potassium, low blood cell counts, low thyroid and hormone levels and other signs testable by the doctor;
- Syncope, or feeling “woozy”;
- Difficulty sleeping;
- Feeling cold all the time;
- Sensitive teeth, enamel erosion, cavities and other dental issues;
- Brittle or weak nails;
- Lanugo (a fine covering of hair on the face and body);
- Discolouration of teeth from vomiting, or other acid-induced damage;
- Eating large amounts of carrots or similar vegetables can result in yellow skin;
- Wounds taking a long time to heal;
- Impaired immune functioning;
- Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet;
- Muscle weakness;
- Hair on the head becomes thin, dry and/or brittle;
- Swelling around area of salivary glands;
- Dry skin;
- Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting);
- Irregularities in menstruation suck as irregular periods, amenorrhea or requiring hormonal contraceptives to have a period.
For more information about anorexia, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Anorexia which hopes to expel the myths and stereotypes that exist about Anorexia and help you to understand the true meaning of Anorexia – above and beyond those age-old explanations that only ever scratch the surface. Need2Know also have some great books about children’s nutrition, food for health and weight loss. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, caring for a friend or just curious, we have all the information you need!