What is Anorexia? Signs and Symptoms

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder in which the sufferer severely restricts their food intake in order to lower their weight, or maintain a severely low weight. Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by a restrictive eating pattern with the purpose of constantly losing weight accompanied with a fear of gaining or maintaining their weight. There are many ways in which people with Anorexia may exhibit these behaviours such as: eating as little as possible, adhering to strict calorie limits, exercising excessively, and eating only certain types of foods or food groups.

Each case of the disorder is as unique as the individuals themselves, however the commonality is the pre-occupation with weight, body shape and size, with a particular focus on keeping it unhealthily low. Anorexia is not just a diet, it is an unhealthy pre-occupation with potentially life threatening consequences.

Some people with Anorexia, similarly to those with Bulimia, purge after they eat using methods such as: self-induced vomiting, laxatives, exercise or insulin abuse. However, unlike those with Bulimia, their weight is always very low, and their binges are more likely subjective in nature by comparison to those experiencing Bulimia Nervosa.

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Simply having a low weight does not constitute a diagnosis of Anorexia in itself; Anorexia is a psychiatric disorder meaning that in order for a diagnosis to be made, there must be psychological aspects to the persons low weight and restrictive diet as well. There are a range of common traits, signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa beyond maintaining a low weight that include psychological physiological and behavioural aspects.

Behavioural:
– Fatigue or excessive tiredness.
– Withdrawing and isolating self.
– Wearing baggy clothes to hide body or weight loss.
– Obsessive interest in food, calories, carbs, fat grams etc.
– Obsession with exercise.
– Keeping food diaries.
– Unusual food rituals when eating: cutting food into small pieces; chewing a certain number of times with each mouthful; pushing or rearranging food on the plate; only eating at certain times etc.
– Hiding food to avoid eating it/pretending to eat it.
– Being secretive about eating habits.
– Lying about food habits and food eaten
– Making excuses to avoid eating.
– Weighing self, often multiple times daily.
– Measuring their body: waist, thighs, arms, hips etc.
– Becoming more secretive.
– Denial.

Physiological:
– Severe or fast weight loss.
– Dizziness and feeling light-headed.
– Fainting.
– Stomach pains.
– Constipation.
– Feeling cold.
– Developing lanugo (fine downy) hair on face and body.
– Cessation of periods (amenorrhea).
– Hair loss.
– Paling complexion.
– Low blood pressure.

Psychological:
– Difficulty sleeping/ insomnia.
– Feeling fat despite low weight.
– Irritability and moodiness.
– Perfectionistic personality traits.
– High expectations of self.
– Black and white thinking.
– Difficulties concentrating.
– Loss of libido/interest in sex.
– Self critical, especially after eating; “I’m such a fat pig” etc.

Sources:
HelpGuide.org, NHS UK, B-eat, Something-Fishy.org

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