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Anorexia Nervosa: Not Just a Loss of Appetite

By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer

Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief

In today’s society, the term “anorexia” seems to be thrown around a lot, so it is important to clarify the true factual meaning of the word. The word itself has 2 meanings. “Anorexia” means a loss of appetite, and this is a defining characteristic of the eating disorder, “anorexia nervosa.” As for the second meaning of the word, “anorexia” is also short for the eating disorder, “anorexia nervosa.” Those with anorexia nervosa place a high priority on maintaining their weight and figure. They will go to great lengths to maintain it, even if such measures significantly interfere with their lives.

According to the Mayo Clinic, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by an abnormally low body weight or rapid weight loss, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of one’s weight/body image. It can affect people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, races, and ethnicities. The health consequences of anorexia nervosa involve the body slowing down its processes to conserve energy. This is because the individual is denied the essential nutrients they need to function normally. Interestingly, anorexia nervosa is not a recent medical discovery; historians have found evidence of people displaying symptoms of anorexia nervosa for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia nervosa has been diagnosed in children and older adults at increasing rates, but the condition most commonly begins in adolescence. Anorexia nervosa cannot simply be determined by looking at an individual. can't determine if a person has anorexia nervosa just by looking at them The following are three diagnostic criteria of anorexia nervosa: (1) restriction of calorie intake compared to recommended requirements, leading to a significantly low body weight; (2) intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though said individual may be underweight; and (3) one’s body weight or shape is seen in a distorted image or denial of the seriousness of their current low body weight (National Eating Disorders Association).

According to the Mayo Clinic, some symptoms of anorexia nervosa include extreme weight loss, loss of appetite (anorexia), thin appearance, abnormal blood counts, fatigue, insomnia, irregular heart rhythms, absence of menstruation, dizziness or fainting, etc. Some behavioral symptoms of anorexia nervosa include attempts to lose weight by severely restricting food intake through dieting/fasting and exercising excessively. Lastly, some emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms may include: frequently skipping meals or refusing to eat, denial of hunger or making excuses for not eating, eating only a few certain "safe" foods, adopting rigid meal or eating rituals (such as spitting food out after chewing) and not wanting to eat in public.

The causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown, but there are some factors that are involved. According to MedlinePlus, some risk factors for anorexia nervosa include: being more worried about weight and shape, having an anxiety disorder as a child, having a negative self-image, low self-esteem, anxiety, having eating problems during infancy or early childhood, or trying to be ‘perfect’ or overly focused on rules. Anorexia nervosa is diagnosed by doctors using the three criteria aforementioned.

Treatments for anorexia nervosa will be specific to the individual, but they will involve a team of specialists who can help the person overcome the challenges that they face with anorexia nervosa. According to Medical News Today, treatments can consist of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling, nutritional therapy, and medication, alongside dietary supplements. CBT can help one overcome their old ways of thinking and behaving around food, medication can treat depression and anxiety brought on by anorexia nervosa, and supplements can resolve nutritional deficiencies. Hospital stays may be necessary for certain individuals if their condition is severe. Someone with anorexia nervosa may be hospitalized if they have a severely low BMI, malnutrition, complications due to inadequate food intake, a persistent refusal to eat, or a psychiatric emergency. Treatments will involve a gradual increase in food intake to restore overall health. It can be very difficult to treat anorexia nervosa, so individuals, their families, and preferably a professional in the field must work together in the best interest of the person.

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, so you can possibly identify them in yourself or others. However, it is equally important to not self-diagnose. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, get in touch with your doctor and see what your next steps should be. Getting medical help right away can make an eating disorder less severe!

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