what's the difference between anorexia and anorexia nervosa?
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, do not always mean everyone who has one is thin.

An eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, does not mean you will always be thin. One of the most common and dangerous myths about eating disorders is that everyone who has one is thin.

  • Anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders are both mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all sizes.
  • According to experts, eating disorder sufferers are more likely to be normal weight or overweight than emaciated, which is a common misconception that prevents many people from receiving the help they require.
  • A few studies have found that one-third of adolescents hospitalized for anorexia are not underweight but still exhibit all the other symptoms of anorexia nervosa.

According to research, you can have a healthy body weight but be just as sick as someone with typical anorexia nervosa, including having the same eating and food-related thoughts.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person intentionally restricts their food or beverage intake due to a strong desire to be thin and a strong fear of gaining weight. Even if a person is already thin, this can happen.

Bodyweight and shape perception is distorted, and this has an undue influence on a person's self-image and self-worth. Weight loss and nutritional imbalance in such persons over a long period can result in serious complications, including death.

2 types of anorexia nervosa

  1. Restricting type: The individual describes presentations in which weight loss is achieved through dieting, fasting, or strenuous exercise.
  2. Binge-eating or purging type: The individual has a history of binge-eating or purging behavior, such as self-induced vomiting or the abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

22 signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Here are 22 signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

  1. A low body weight is defined as a body mass index of less than 18.5 kg/m2
  2. Extremely restricted eating
  3. Extreme thinness (emaciation)
  4. Weight loss of 15 percent or more of body weight
  5. Relentless pursuit of thinness
  6. Fear of gaining weight if you are very thin
  7. Lack of menstrual periods (in women)
  8. Problems with digestion, energy, memory, and concentration
  9. Growth of fine hair all over the body
  10. Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  11. Mild anemia and muscle wasting and weakness
  12. Feeling cold all the time
  13. Loss of sex drive
  14. Dental cavities
  15. Hair loss
  16. Dry skin
  17. Severe constipation
  18. Secondary female characteristics are lost, causing hips to narrow, breasts to shrink and hair loss to occur
  19. Nails become brittle
  20. Blood pressure drops to dangerous levels with the danger of fainting
  21. Body temperature drops so that these people often feel cold
  22. Their self-esteem is based on how they perceive their body weight and shape

7 causes of anorexia nervosa

Eating disorders are complicated, and experts are not sure what causes them. However, they could be the result of a combination of genetics, family behaviors, social factors, and personality traits.

7 possible causes of anorexia nervosa include:

  1. If you have a family history of anorexia, you are more likely to develop anorexia.
  2. People in the family may have other eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa.
  3. You work or participate in a sport that emphasizes body size, such as ballet, modeling, or gymnastics.
  4. You are the type of person who strives to be perfect all the time, never feels good enough, and is constantly worried.
  5. You are going through a stressful life event, such as divorce, relocating to a new town or school, or losing a loved one.
  6. Anorexia nervosa affects approximately 90 percent of women between the ages of 12 and 25 years.
  7. Anorexia nervosa was previously thought to affect only upper-and middle-class families, but it is now known to affect everyone, all ages and people belonging to any socioeconomic and ethnic background.

Anorexia nervosa frequently begins as simple dieting to lose weight or eat healthier, but quickly progresses to extreme and unhealthy weight loss. Social attitudes toward body appearance, family influences, genetics, and neurochemical and developmental factors may play a role in the development and maintenance of anorexia nervosa.


Eating Disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating See Slideshow

What are the treatment options for anorexia nervosa?

The treatment for anorexia nervosa is usually complicated, but doctors recommend their treatment based on three main principles.

  1. Keeping the weight loss stable
  2. Beginning nutrition rehabilitation to regain a healthy weight
  3. Treating emotional issues, such as low self-esteem and distorted thinking patterns, as well as developing long-term, healthy behavioral changes

Treatment for anorexia nervosa entails assisting those affected to normalize their eating and weight control behaviors, as well as restoring their weight.

  • A critical component of the treatment plan is the medical evaluation and treatment of any co-occurring psychiatric or medical conditions.
  • The nutritional plan should focus on assisting to overcome eating anxiety and practice consuming a balanced diet with a diverse range of foods and varying calorie densities at regularly spaced meals.
  • The most effective treatments for adolescents involve assisting parents to support and monitor their child's meals.
  • Body dissatisfaction is important to address, but it often takes longer to correct than weight and eating habits.
  • Treatment should always be based on a thorough assessment of the individual and family.
  • Family therapy focuses on providing support and setting limits for problem behaviors.
  • Individual therapy typically combines cognitive and behavioral techniques.
  • If depressed moods or worrying thoughts interfere with daily life, medication may be beneficial.
  • When outpatient treatment is ineffective for severe anorexia nervosa, admission to an inpatient or residential behavioral specialty program may be indicated.
  • Most specialty programs are effective at restoring weight and normalizing eating habits, but the risk of relapse remains high in the first year after program completion.

It can be difficult to admit that you have an eating disorder. You might not even notice how thin you are. You may continue to try to lose weight. You may attempt to conceal your problem from others. However, in most cases, anorexia will not go away on its own. 

Fortunately, treatment is frequently effective, but it must be started in earlier stages of the disorder. The first step is to confide in someone you have faith in. You are not alone in your struggle with anorexia.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 12/21/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

Mental Health America. Can you have an eating disorder if you aren’t skinny? https://screening.mhanational.org/content/can-you-have-eating-disorder-if-you-arent-skinny/

WebMD. Anorexia Nervosa. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/mental-health-anorexia-nervosa

Smith M, Robinson L, Segal J. Anorexia Nervosa. HelpGuide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa.htm