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Anorexia is an eating disorder characterised by voluntary starvation and exercise stress. Anorexia is a complex disease, involving psychological, sociological and physiological components. A person who is suffering from anorexia is known as an 'anorexic,' 'anorectic,' or the less common 'anoretic.' Anorexia simply refers to the medical symptom of lost appetite. Anorectic and anoretic also refer to appetite-suppressing drugs.

symptoms of anorexia

The causes of anorexia are a matter of debate in medical circles and society in general. General perspectives fit between the poles of it being physiological or psychological (with the potential for sociological and cultural influences being a cause to various degrees) in origin. Many now take the opinion that it is a mix of both, in that it is a psychological condition which is often (though not inherently) borne of certain conducive neurophysiologic conditions.

anorexia signs

Anorectic people may display the following signs and symptoms:

  • be too thin and/or appear to have lost weight;
  • be secretive about their eating and try to not eat whilst being around others;
  • eat in a ritualistic nature (This can encompass taking abnormally small bites, cutting food up into abnormally small pieces, being sullen during mealtimes, staring at their food whilst eating, holding cutlery in odd ways or at strange angles at times, or eating slowly, especially when putting food into the mouth.);
  • look longingly at or pay abnormal attention towards food but not eat it;
  • cook wonderful meals for others but avoid eating the food they've made themselves;
  • say they're too fat when they are not;
  • have dry skin and thinning hair;
  • suffer from poor health and sunken eyes;
  • have grown lanugo, a thin hair that grows all over their body as a natural physiological reaction to severe starvation that serves to keep the body warm in the absence of fat;
  • possess an extensive knowledge about the food energy contents of the different types of food, and the energy-burning effects of each form of exercise;
  • faint or otherwise pass out (an effect of starvation);
  • have amenorrhea, the absence of menstruation.

A person can be anorectic without displaying all of the above signs.

primary physiological symptoms of anorexia


  • Voluntary starvation
  • Exercise stress
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
In the animal model s:
  • Negative impact on the immune system
  • Negative impact on the Central Nervous System
  • Serotonin deficiency

what is anorexia?

The following is considered the "textbook" definition of anorexia to assist doctors in making a clinical diagnosis. It is in no way representative of what a sufferer feels or experiences in living with the illness. It is important to note that an individual can still suffer from anorexia even if one of the below signs is not present. In other words, it is dangerous to read the diagnostic criteria and think either oneself or others must not be anorectic because one or more of the symptoms listed are not present.

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (e.g., weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight less than 85% of that expected; or failure to make expected weight gain during period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected).
  • Maintaining excessive physical activity.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
  • Disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
  • In postmenarcheal females (women who have not yet gone through menopause), amenorrhea (the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles).

Restricting Type: during the current episode of anorexia nervosa, the person has not regularly engaged in binge-eating or purging behavior (i.e., self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas).

Binge-Eating Type or Purging Type: during the current episode of anorexia nervosa, the person has regularly engaged in binge-eating OR purging behavior (i.e., self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas).

Although anorectics are less likely to choose fattening foods to eat, this is not always so. They may set their food-restriction objectives by food energy rather than by food type—for example, one may set a goal of 100 calories in a day and the food chosen to attain that number may very well be a cereal bar one day and an apple the next.

dangers of anorexia

Anorexia has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. Starvation can cause major organs to shut down. A heart attack is one of the most common causes of death in those suffering with an eating disorder. People can die from eating disorders at any body-weight.

Osteoporosis is another danger of anorexia. Low calcium intake is only part of the problem. Even in those who take in adequate calcium through food or supplements, amenorrhea prevents the body from absorbing it fully.

anorexia treatment

Successful treatment of, and recovery from, anorexia is possible, but it can take many years. The earlier intervention arrests the course of the disease, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. Anorexia has the highest death-rate of all mental illnesses, with as many as 20% of anorectics eventually dying of complications of the disease, usually from heart/organ failure or low levels of potassium. Once an anorectic reaches a certain weight, death becomes a very real possibility. Notable people who have died from the condition include singer Karen Carpenter, ballerina Heidi Guenther, gymnast Christy Henrich, and vocalist Lena Zavaroni. The BMI (or body mass index) where this starts becoming a danger is generally around 12 to 12.5.(As a point of reference, a normal BMI is between 20 and 23, most "centrefold" models have a BMI of 18, and most fashion models come in at 17. An anorectic BMI is usually defined as being below 17.5.)

Approaches include hospitalization, psychotherapy, specialised anorexia treatment-centres, and family counselling. The prescription of psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants is also practiced. Support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous, which deals with eating disorders in general, can also be helpful.

Appropriate treatment of any present vitamin and dietary-mineral deficiencies, particularly in the common case of zinc deficiency, may be highly beneficial to the sufferer's mental and physical wellbeing.

Anorexia is notoriously hard to treat, with sufferers often either emphatically denying that they are ill or paradoxically, accepting that they have anorexia, but seeing nothing wrong with their "lifestyle choice". This latter view is evidenced by the growing number of "pro-ana" websites and discussion groups where self-identified "anorectics" come together to reinforce their beliefs and behaviours, creating a positive feedback loop.

Another difficulty in treating anorexia is the prevalence of relapse.

Posted by Staff at May 18, 2005 12:41 AM

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Comments Archive

My husband's sister is in the hospital and she is 13 years old. She has been in there for three days. The doctors aren't sure what is wrong with her. She had not eatin in two weeks. She has always been kinda on the thin side and I mentioned that I thought she might be anorexic before. I have over heard her saying that she had to watch her weight, but she is already skinny and that was six months ago. Now she is in the hospital and she has ZERO fat in her when they tested her. They pumped her with sugar and calories and fat to get her better, but nothing seems to be helping very much. She complains of chest pain and it hurts her to swallow so she ends up not really eating. My husband doesn't think she was anorexic on perpose. Is there something that can cause someone to be anorexic with out meaning to? Something that can give chest pains and such? If you know of ANYTHING please write me back.

Posted by: Catherine at February 13, 2006 10:47 PM

I found some good ideas on your site `

Posted by: Peter Jones at June 2, 2006 12:15 PM

Wow, I think I might have this, but I'm not underweight at all... I have to start watching out for myself more.

Posted by: Ann. at July 17, 2006 6:14 PM

What do i do if i think one of my friends is suffering from anoxeria?

Posted by: BB at September 24, 2006 11:21 PM

My daughter just turned 18. Over Thanksgiving, she did not as much drink a glass of water for two days. She lied when asked if she ate, telling my sister she ate an apple, which there were only three apples in the basket and none were missing. She has a MySpace and openly describes her "problem." Yet, her "friends" encourage her about the weight loss. She has abused laxatives, purged, NOW she just doesn't eat at all. She is an A student and a talented singer in her chior. She is shrinking up to nothiing! I can't help her, I feel I am on the outside looking in as my heart fills with an overwhelming hoplesness. What do I do? She doesn't know i know. She doesn't know I read her MySpace. I was sworn to secrecy by her teachers as they assured me they are getting her counseling. She lives with her teacher and I am about 150 miles away. During a car accident, I let her move to her aunt's house in Medfrod, Or. , as a temporary situation. BUT, by the time I recovered, a year later, she requested to stay to graduate as she became fond of her school and peers. NOW, I hardly hear from her and I am now being told she has this eating disorder, BUT NOTHING is being done. Her lab tests came back that she has slight damage to her kidneys and liver. At 18? Is there anyone who could advise me on this? Help.

Posted by: mom_hurting at December 3, 2006 7:35 PM

my fiances daughter is 17 and a cheerleader at a local school. He took her to the docter because she said that her throat hurts when she eats. Well, the doctor said her throat was raw and she had acid reflux. Is that so? I honestly feel that she is making herself throw up so she won't gain weight, what do you think?

Posted by: grace at January 22, 2007 8:35 PM