Anorexia nervosa: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, commonly known as anorexia, is a potentially deadly eating disorder. People with anorexia experience significant weight loss or struggle to maintain a healthy body weight for their body type, height, and age. They may also have a distorted perception of their own body. Anorexia, despite its definition as "loss of appetite," causes constant hunger in those affected. Individuals with anorexia may have a deep fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight. They may perceive themselves as obese, even if they are slim, and believe that their self-worth is determined by their weight. Females are more prone to developing anorexia nervosa compared to males, and the disorder usually begins during late adolescence or early adulthood. Risk factors for eating disorders include childhood obesity, being female, mood disorders, personality traits like impulsivity and perfectionism, history of sexual abuse, and weight-related concerns within the family. Anorexia is not just about food; it is a harmful and sometimes life-threatening way of dealing with emotional issues. Those with anorexia often tie their self-worth to being thin. This eating disorder, along with others, can dominate a person's life and be difficult to overcome. However, with proper treatment, individuals can regain their sense of self, develop healthier eating habits, and reduce the severe consequences of anorexia.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing Anorexia nervosa, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention by calling emergency services or consult with a Nutritionist.


Psychological factors may involve using eating as a means to regain a sense of control during times of high stress or overwhelming circumstances. Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, or loneliness may also contribute to the development of the disorder. Physical causes may encompass hormonal changes that impact mood, appetite, thinking, and memory regulation. The familial tendency of anorexia suggests a potential hereditary component as well. Cultural and environmental factors can also play a role. Media and social media exert influence on an individual's desired appearance or perceived ideal appearance.

Risk Factors

Rapid reduction in body weight over a span of several weeks or months • Preparing meals for others while abstaining from eating oneself • Avoiding mealtimes, particularly in public settings – • Experiencing an intense fear of gaining weight • Restricting food choices based on specific categories. • Suffering from depression, anxiety, or irritability • Experiencing infrequent, irregular, or missed menstrual periods. • Utilizing laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills • Frequently falling ill • Engaging in compulsive exercise • Brittle hair and nails • Dry or yellowed skin • Anaemia • Constipation • Swollen joints • Tooth decay • Abdominal pain or stomach cramps • Dizziness or fainting • Fine hair growth on the body


Anorexia is more prevalent among females, although there has been a growing incidence of eating disorders among males, potentially due to societal pressures. Additionally, anorexia is commonly observed in teenagers, but it can affect individuals of any age, albeit being uncommon in those above 40 years old. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable due to the physical changes they experience during puberty, as well as heightened susceptibility to peer pressure and sensitivity towards comments about their weight or body shape. Several factors contribute to the risk of developing anorexia, including genetic predisposition. Certain genetic variations may increase the likelihood of an individual developing anorexia, especially if they have a close family member who has previously experienced the disorder. Furthermore, engaging in dieting and experiencing periods of starvation can also elevate the risk of developing an eating disorder. Research indicates that many symptoms associated with anorexia are manifestations of starvation, which affects the brain and leads to mood changes, rigid thinking, anxiety, and reduced appetite. Starvation and subsequent weight loss can alter brain function in susceptible individuals, perpetuating restrictive eating behaviours and hindering the return to normal eating patterns. Additionally, significant life transitions such as changing schools, homes, or jobs, going through a breakup, or experiencing the loss or illness of a loved one can induce emotional stress and heighten the risk of developing anorexia.

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In the presence of symptoms, a comprehensive medical history and physical examination will be conducted by the doctor. While there are no specific lab tests to diagnose anorexia, blood or urine tests may be employed to eliminate physical illness as the cause of weight loss. These tests can also assess organ function, while imaging tests can evaluate bone density. An echocardiogram may be utilized to examine the heart. If no physical illness is detected, the doctor may refer the patient to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a healthcare professional with expertise in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists may use specialized interview and assessment tools to evaluate individuals for eating disorders.


The treatment for anorexia nervosa aims to achieve the following objectives: • Help individuals reach a healthier weight. • Empower individuals to address emotional concerns, including diminished self-worth. • Support individuals in analysing and modifying their cognitive processes. • Foster the establishment of enduring behavioural transformations.

Preventive Measures

Prevention is a critical aspect when it comes to addressing anorexia nervosa, a complex and potentially life-threatening eating disorder. By focusing on prevention strategies, we can work towards reducing the occurrence of this disorder and promoting healthier attitudes towards body image and food. One effective prevention strategy is education. By raising awareness about the signs, symptoms, and risk factors associated with anorexia nervosa, we can empower individuals to recognize warning signs in themselves or their loved ones. Educational programs can be implemented in schools, healthcare settings, and communities to provide accurate information about healthy eating habits, body positivity, and the dangers of extreme dieting. Promoting positive body image is also crucial in preventing anorexia nervosa. Society often perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards that contribute to low self-esteem and unhealthy behaviors. By encouraging acceptance of diverse body shapes and sizes, fostering self-confidence, and promoting media literacy skills that challenge harmful messages, we can help individuals develop a healthy relationship with their bodies. Another preventive measure involves early intervention. Identifying individuals who may be at risk for developing anorexia nervosa or displaying disordered eating patterns is essential for timely intervention. This can be achieved through regular screenings during routine medical check-ups or by providing accessible resources for individuals seeking help. Furthermore, creating supportive environments that promote positive mental health can play a significant role in prevention efforts. This includes fostering open conversations about mental health within families, schools, workplaces, and communities. Providing access to mental health services such as counseling or support groups can also contribute to early intervention and reduce the likelihood of developing anorexia nervosa. In conclusion, prevention strategies are vital in addressing anorexia nervosa effectively. Through education initiatives, promoting positive body image, early intervention measures, and creating supportive environments for mental health discussions; we have the potential to reduce the prevalence of this disorder while promoting overall well-being among individuals at risk.

Do's & Don’t's

Do's Don't
Do: Encourage open communication and listen without judgment. Don't: Make comments about appearance, weight, or food choices.
Do: Offer support in seeking professional help and treatment. Don't: Try to force them to eat or shame them for their eating habits.
Do: Educate yourself about anorexia nervosa to understand their struggles better. Don't: Enable or participate in behaviors that promote unhealthy eating habits.
Do: Focus on their overall well-being, not just their weight. Don't: Use guilt or manipulation to try to change their behavior.
Do: Encourage healthy coping mechanisms and activities that don't revolve around food or weight. Don't: Dismiss their feelings or experiences as insignificant.
Do: Be patient and offer continuous support throughout their recovery journey. Don't: Assume that recovery is quick or linear—it takes time and may have setbacks.

If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing Anorexia nervosa, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention by calling emergency services or consult with a Nutritionist.

Frequently Asked Questions
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, leading to self-imposed starvation and extreme efforts to achieve excessive thinness.
Signs may include significant weight loss, preoccupation with food, distorted body image, excessive exercise, denial of the severity of low body weight, and changes in social behavior.
Anorexia nervosa can affect individuals of any age, gender, or socioeconomic background. However, it is more common in females and often begins during adolescence.
Anorexia nervosa can lead to severe physical and mental health issues, including malnutrition, heart problems, osteoporosis, depression, and anxiety.
Diagnosis typically involves a thorough assessment by healthcare professionals, including a physical examination, psychological evaluation, and discussions about eating habits and weight history.
Treatment usually involves a combination of medical, nutritional, and psychological interventions. It may include hospitalization, nutritional counseling, therapy, and support from a multidisciplinary team.
While not entirely preventable, raising awareness about body image, promoting a healthy relationship with food, and fostering open communication about mental health can contribute to prevention.
Recovery is possible with appropriate treatment and support. However, it's important to note that the journey to recovery may be ongoing, and relapses can occur.
Offering emotional support, encouraging professional help, and avoiding judgmental language or behavior are crucial. Being patient and understanding during the recovery process is also important.
Long-term effects can vary, but with proper treatment and support, many individuals can achieve recovery. However, some health complications may persist, highlighting the importance of early intervention.
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