What is anorexia?


Anorexia: Overview

Anorexia is a type of eating disorder. People who have anorexia don't eat enough to stay at a normal weight. Sometimes they also exercise too much. They do these things because they're so afraid of gaining weight. They believe that they're fat, even when they're thin. Often they think that losing even more weight will solve their problems and make their lives better.

If you have anorexia, it can really harm your health. This is because your body doesn't get the nutrition it needs. The first step to controlling the problem is admitting that something is wrong. Then counseling can help you change how you think about food, the way you see your body, and any other emotional issues. It may take months or years, but you can recover from anorexia.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (say "an-uh-RECK-see-uh nur-VOH-suh") is an eating disorder that causes a person to eat very little because of an intense fear of gaining weight. People who have it severely restrict their food intake and can become dangerously thin. If it goes on for a long time, it can cause serious health problems or even death.

People who have anorexia often don't see or believe that they have a problem. It is usually up to their loved ones to get help for them. Early treatment is important. The longer this problem goes on, the harder it is to overcome.

What happens when you have anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia almost always begins with a strict weight-loss diet. Over time, strictly limiting foods leads to weight loss that isn't healthy and malnutrition.

As malnutrition sets in, the brain and metabolism change. This limits the appetite and how your body uses food. It also limits your ability to think clearly and make good decisions. As the illness gets worse, behaviors that aren't rational begin. You might make rules about food or make yourself vomit out of fear of gaining weight.

Starvation and malnourishment from anorexia can cause other problems. These include osteoporosis or an irregular heartbeat. Often other mental health conditions occur along with anorexia, such as depression.

After anorexia starts, a return to normal eating is very hard without help. Early treatment offers the best chance to recover. Some people will need treatment at an inpatient clinic. People who have anorexia tend to strongly deny that they have a problem. So most often, their loved ones have to get help for them.

What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

People who have anorexia weigh much less than is healthy or normal. They think they are overweight even when they are very thin. Their lives become focused on controlling their weight. They may obsess about food, weight, and dieting. And they may strictly limit how much they eat.

How is anorexia nervosa treated?

Because anorexia is a physical and emotional problem, you may work with a doctor, a dietitian, and a counselor. Treatment can help you get back to a healthy weight, learn good eating habits, and learn to feel better about yourself. If your weight has dropped too low, you'll need treatment in a hospital.

How is anorexia nervosa diagnosed?

There is no single test that can diagnose anorexia. But anorexia has a visible effect on your health and eating habits. If anorexia is suspected, your doctor will compare your weight with the expected weight for someone of your height and age. He or she will also check for signs of malnutrition or starvation.

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Experts don't really know what causes anorexia. But it may be due to a mix of genetics, family behaviors, social factors, and personality traits. For example, you may be more likely to have anorexia if someone in your family has it or if you do a sport that stresses body size, like gymnastics.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia is a type of eating disorder. People who have anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight. They severely limit the amount of food they eat and can become dangerously thin. Anorexia usually starts in the teen years. It's more common in females than males.

Learning to trust others when you have anorexia

Sometimes people who have anorexia find it difficult to trust the family, friends, health professionals, and other caring people who are trying to help them. There are many reasons for this, ranging from anxiety about losing control and gaining weight to confused thinking because of malnutrition. And it can be hard to trust a whole new way of eating, exercising, and taking care of yourself.

If you are diagnosed with an eating disorder, it may take some time to develop trust in the people who are trying to help. But you can do it with practice.

  • Listen to what others are saying about healthy eating.

    Avoid looking for ways to argue back.

  • Ask to read some information that supports what others say about food.
  • Learn about what is included in a balanced diet.

    Then discuss what you have learned with the people who are trying to help.

  • Let people know how you are feeling.

    Listen to how others are feeling.

  • Try to concentrate on one goal at a time.

    This helps to keep things simple.

  • Accept support and feedback from other people.
  • Focus on your breathing to calm yourself when you start to feel anxious.

Anorexia: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • A person with anorexia seems depressed and is talking about suicide. If the talk about suicide seems real, stay with the person, or ask someone you trust to stay with the person, until you get emergency help.
  • You have a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel hopeless or have thoughts of hurting yourself.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • You feel anxious or depressed.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.