Frequently asked questions about anorexia
Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder characterized by three key features: Distorted body image, intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and severe food restriction resulting in low body weight.
In anorexia nervosa, individuals develop an unhealthy perception of their body weight and shape, which often influence their sense of self-worth to an extreme degree. Despite being underweight – sometimes dangerously so – those with anorexia may continue to perceive themselves as overweight and have an overwhelming fear of becoming fat. This drives individuals to significantly limit their food intake, sometimes to the degree of self-imposed starvation. They may also engage in excessive exercise or in purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or laxative use.
- Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa is crucial for early intervention. Common indicators include:
Distorted body image
- Extreme weight loss
- Social withdrawal
- Fear of gaining weight
- Severely restricting food intake
- Excessive exercise
- Engaging in purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or laxative misuse
- Various physical symptoms (including fatigue, dizziness, dehydration, and insomnia)
- Anorexia nervosa also commonly occurs alongside other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and OCD.
- Diagnosing anorexia nervosa involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional. The diagnostic criteria include:
Restriction of energy intake leading to a significantly low body weight
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even when underweight
- Disturbed perception of body weight and shape, with body weight and shape often exerting undue influence on one’s self-worth
- Anorexia can be further divided into two types. In the restricting type of anorexia, individuals engage in fasting, extreme dieting, or excessive exercise in order to achieve weight loss.
- In the binge eating/purging type of anorexia, individuals also have times where they binge (eat a large amount in a short period of time) and engage in purging behavior such as self-induced vomiting or improper use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. In either type of anorexia, individuals are significantly underweight, putting them at risk for many complications.
If left untreated, anorexia can have devastating effects on physical and psychological health. Medical complications such as loss of a regular period cycle, low blood pressure, low heart rate, electrolyte disturbances, and more can occur. Due to its severity, anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health disorder, making it crucial for individuals to find prompt treatment from a mental health professional. Once help is sought out, treatment for anorexia will often require a multidisciplinary approach, involving medical, psychological, and nutritional interventions, with the goal to restore healthy weight, address psychological factors, and help individuals develop a healthy relationship with their body and food.
Treatment options for anorexia
Various forms of talk therapy have shown to be effective treatments for anorexia nervosa. In these therapies, individuals can explore their thoughts and beliefs related to weight and body shape and develop skills to change their behaviors. Therapy can also help individuals address the underlying emotional and psychological issues related to anorexia nervosa.
Working with a registered dietician who specializes in eating disorders can help individuals establish healthy eating habits, set up a balanced and individualized meal plan, and gradually restore weight.
Psychiatric medications are generally not the initial first-line treatment for anorexia nervosa. However, certain medications can help with weight gain in individuals who do not respond to therapy and nutritional counseling. Antidepressants and other psychiatric medications may also be prescribed to address mental health conditions like depression or anxiety that often occur alongside anorexia.
In severe cases of anorexia where there are significant medical complications, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize physical health, address malnutrition, and ensure safety.
Find treatment for anorexia nervosa at Geode Health
If you or someone you know is suffering from anorexia nervosa, we encourage you to seek professional help. Our team at Geode Health is trained, licensed, and fully-equipped to assess your symptoms and devise a treatment plan that is tailored specifically for you.
We offer extensive health services including psychotherapy, psychiatry, and medication management to help you establish a healthier relationship with your body. To get the help you need, view our many different locations to find a mental health facility near you, or set up an appointment online today.
If you are in crisis and in need of immediate support
Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741