What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is defined by the restriction of adequate caloric intake, low body weight, intense fear of becoming fat, and often the lack of recognition of the seriousness of low body weight.

Calorie restriction over an extended period of time will significantly reduce a person’s body weight to a level much less than expected/normal for their age and sex. Malnutrition has many medical and psychological consequences if left untreated and will often require a team of specialized multidisciplinary specialists to monitor.

5 Signs & Symptoms of Anorexia

Intense Fear of
Gaining Weight

People with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of gaining weight, even if they’re already underweight. There is also a persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of low body weight.

Distorted Body Image

Distorted body image is common in people with anorexia. People with this condition are often preoccupied and disturbed by their body shape and weight and can obsess about their appearance for fear of becoming obese.

Excessive Exercise

Some people with anorexia exercise excessively as a means to cope or gain a sense of control. Individuals may even continue despite being injured, discouraged by medical professionals, or having loved ones express concerns about the amount of time spent away from other activities.

Food-Related Rituals

Individuals may develop food-related rituals to conceal the disorder from others. Some of these subtle rituals include cutting food into small pieces, moving food around the plate to make it appear they’re eating, and chewing food and spitting it into a napkin to avoid swallowing.

Medication Abuse

People with anorexia may use laxatives, diuretics (“water pills”), or appetite suppressants to aid in weight loss. These drugs can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, leading to potentially serious health complications.

Do I Have an Eating Disorder?

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, click below to take our eating disorders quiz.

Treatment Options for Anorexia Nervosa

  • Effective eating disorder treatment starts with a thorough psychological evaluation, physical exam, and blood tests to determine if you have any imbalances or other health issues caused by anorexia. Your treatment team may recommend a bone density test to determine if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis due to poor nutrition.
  • Medical care is used to treat anorexia nervosa in both men and women. Anorexia affects the heart and other organs, so it’s important to have your vital signs monitored regularly. Your treatment team will also make sure you’re hydrated. Inpatient care can help prevent some of the most serious complications of anorexia.
  • Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is one of the most common methods for treating eating disorders. You’ll work to uncover the root causes of your eating disorder and learn how to replace harmful habits with healthier behaviors.

  • Treatment centers will assess and offer medications to help address anxiety, depression and other symptoms common with anorexia nervosa. If medication is recommended and prescribed, our compassionate care team will monitor carefully for side effects.

Luxury Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

Our anorexia treatment program is tailored to you and your unique needs. When you arrive, you’ll undergo a thorough assessment and have the opportunity to set treatment goals for your stay. Our trained medical professionals are available to monitor your psychological and physical health and keep you safe as you begin to recover from anorexia.

We believe “all foods fit” your lifestyle. This approach helps you develop a better relationship with food and reduce the fear associated with eating. We’ll teach you how to listen to your body to help you stay active and engaged in your life. Your treatment team will also work to stabilize your eating habits, reduce food-related stress, and help you change how you think about your body.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Although anorexia is more common in women, men account for approximately 10% to 15% of all anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa cases in the United States.

Without appropriate medical treatment for anorexia, about 20% of people with this eating disorder die prematurely due to heart problems and other complications. The following can be health consequences from Anorexia: 

  • Abnormally slow heartbeat
  • Dangerous electrolyte imbalances
  • Reduced bone density (osteoporosis)
  • Loss of calcium from the bones (osteopenia)
  • Seizures
  • Stunted growth
  • Confusion
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Organ failure
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women
  • Low blood sugar

Anorexia and bulimia are more common eating disorders for many to recognize. While they may appear similar, body weight is currently the determining factor in diagnosis.

Anorexia nervosa refers to the restriction of caloric intake, low body weight, fear of becoming overweight, and is often associated with a lack of recognition of the seriousness of low body weight. There are two types of anorexia: a restricting type and a binge-eating/purging type. Restrictive anorexia does not involve binge eating or purging but involves limited food intake. Binge/purge anorexia involves compensatory behaviors with the goal of maintaining a lower-than-normal body weight.

Bulimia nervosa shares many qualities related to the binge-eating/purging type of anorexia as the individual will engage in recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by behaviors like self-induced vomiting (purging), taking laxatives or diuretics, and fasting or exercising excessively. This pattern can occur once a week or up to 10x a day depending on the severity of symptoms. Non-purging bulimia is another type that does not involve purging, laxatives, diuretics or enemas, but instead involves excessive exercise, fasting, or other restrictive behaviors.

While the cause of anorexia is not known, it often involves a combination of biological, environmental and psychological contributing factors such as genetic tendencies, emotional trauma, specific personality traits, and societal pressures.

Eating disorder treatment saves lives. If your symptoms are debilitating and interfering with your life, either medically or psychologically due to an eating disorder you would benefit from residential treatment instead of a lower level of care such as partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP) or outpatient services. The decision to seek care at a treatment center allows your body the chance to stabilize, repair, heal and accelerate you toward lasting recovery.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) are less likely than white people to be diagnosed with anorexia, as doctors are less likely to inquire about symptoms, resulting in lower rates of diagnosis and fewer recommendations for treatment.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community also have a higher risk of eating disorders than the general population. For example, although gay men represent about 5% of the male population, 42% of men with eating disorders identify as gay. The risk of developing anorexia or another eating disorder is even higher in individuals who are both BIPOC and LGBTQ+.