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What Are the Warning Signs of Anorexia?

Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening mental disorder in which an individual chronically eats too little or nothing because they believe they are overweight. Their severely distorted body image continues to make them see themselves as fat even once their undereating has made them unhealthily thin, and puts them at risk of literally starving themselves to death.

Certain demographics have a much high prevalence of eating disorders: adolescents and females, and particularly adolescent females. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 2.7 percent of all adolescents aged 13 to 18 have a severe eating disorder, and teenage girls are two and a half times more likely than teenage boys to have an eating disorder. For adults, NIMH’s anorexia statistics reveal that three times as many women as men are anorexic.

Behavioral Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

As a result of their distorted body image and their paranoia about gaining weight, anorexics tend to display certain behaviors. You should be concerned that someone might be suffering from anorexia if:

Did You Know?

For someone suffering from anorexia, eating disorder culture can seem like something admirable and even glamorous to aspire to be a part of. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous pro anorexia movement called Pro-Ana that promotes the ideas that anorexia is a lifestyle choice and that an emaciated body is beautiful. Pro-Ana encourages young women, in particular, to persevere with their anorexic behavior as if it were their personal right to defend, and not symptomatic of a serious mental illness.

  • You never see them eat anything, even in situations where it would be expected, such as at a cocktail party or during the lunch break at work
  • They make excuses not to eat, like saying they just ate elsewhere and are still full
  • When they do eat, it is very little and they excessively pick at their food before eating it
  • They are fixated on calorie counting
  • They complain about being fat when they are clearly not overweight (or are already underweight)
  • They seem to always feel cold regardless of the air temperature around them
  • They consistently hide their body shape with loose, baggy or layered clothing
  • They exercise obsessively

As many as half of anorexics also periodically participate in the binge-and-purge behavior of bulimics, so if occasional overeating breaks up the overall pattern of not eating, this too can be a sign of anorexia (especially if the person goes to the washroom immediately afterward).

Physical Anorexia Symptoms

Anorexia is marked most obviously by weight loss to the point of extreme thinness and an unhealthily low body mass index (BMI; a person’s height-to-weight ratio).

However, when the disease goes untreated, it will begin to take its toll on the anorexic’s food-deprived body in other ways, some visible and some not.

Physical evidence of progressed anorexia can include:

  • Depression and lethargy
  • Yellowish hue to the skin
  • Dry, brittle hair and nails
  • Lack of menstrual period
  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Wasted muscles
  • Heart problems

Lack of nutritional energy can cause the body’s systems to begin to shut down and so, ultimately, anorexia can be fatal if not successfully treated.

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