What is Anorexia Nervosa & How to Spot it?

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is a pattern of behavior and feelings that the DSM-5 classifies as an eating disorder. Someone suffering from an eating disorder can’t be put in a box, and there’s no exception for Anorexia Nervosa. There are stereotypes about anorexia such as appearing very skinny, and eating patterns that are very noticeable. Everyone is different however, and it’s important to not jump to any conclusions based on the presence (or absence) or a few symptoms.

How to spot anorexia

Regardless of symptoms, if you feel that something isn’t right, talk to your medical provider or a loved one about what is going on and fears you may have. That being said, below are some warning signs to pay attention to.

skinny woman with Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder

Physical Symptoms

Woman with Anorexia nervosa bundled up and looking very tired

While many physical symptoms may only be noticed in a doctor’s office, here are some that you can look for, in yourself or loved ones.

  • Unexpected weight loss, or lack of gaining weight
  • Frail or thin appearance (not always present) 
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Often cold
  • Skin discoloration such as bluish fingertips or yellowish skin.
  • Period stopping or (in the case of adolescents, never starting)
  • Constipation and stomach pain

Behavioral & Emotional Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia may cause someone to try to lose weight by various measures. The following are some things to pay attention to.

  • Restricting food intake through dieting or fasting
  • Excessive Exercise
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Obsession with food while not eating much.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming “fat”.
  • Negative self talk, particularly about their body.
  • Social anxiety, particularly when food is present.
  • Setting rigid food rules for themselves such as eating only at certain times or cutting out food groups.
  • Eating rituals such as chewing food and then spitting.
  • Excessive weighing, measuring, or examining their body in mirror for flaws.
  • Lying about how much or what they are eating.
  • Layering clothes to hide their body.
  • Lack of emotion
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lower than usual sex drive
  • Self-worth tied to how their body looks or how well they perceive they are doing with their diet or other weight-related habits.

What to do if you believe a loved one is suffering from anorexia or disordered eating?

For starters, show compassion. Anorexia is a disease and is nothing to be ashamed of no more than having a physical illness like bronchitis or migraines. The same applies to if you are the one with the eating disorder. Your body is an amazing home for your beautiful soul. No matter your size or any perceived blemishes, you’re beautiful …but when you have an eating disorder, it’s really hard to give your body grace and to view food as something that your body needs and you deserve.

If you or a loved one have an eating disorder, please reach out to your primary care provider and schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in eating disorder care. Struggling with an eating disorder is more common than you think with 9% of the US population being affected by an eating disorder in their lifetime. You are not alone in your struggle and we would be honored if you’d allow us to walk alongside you as you learn to love and care for your body.

If you believe a child or loved one may be struggling but are unsure of how to talk to them or care for their physical and mental health needs, please reach out. We’d be happy to help you as you navigate those conversations.

someone offering comfort to a friend with an eating disorder

This is not medical advice and not meant to diagnose or treat. If you think you may have an eating disorder, schedule an appointment with a qualified healthcare provider.

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