Anorexia Nervosa

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. Eating disorders are conditions in which there is a serious disturbance in the way a person deals with food, weight, and body image.

The main feature of anorexia nervosa is excess weight loss or maintaining an abnormally low weight for one’s age and height. It is accompanied by a variety of changes in behavior, emotions, thinking, perceptions, and social interactions.

Food and eating dominate the life of a person with anorexia nervosa. Weight loss is achieved by excessive dieting and other extreme ways of controlling weight. These behaviors are fueled by an intense desire to be thinner and a fear of becoming fat. Body weight and shape become the main or even sole measures of self-worth. Maintaining an extremely low weight becomes equated with beauty, success, self-esteem, and self-control and is not seen as a problem.

People with an eating disorder think about food, weight, and body image constantly. They usually have chronic medical and psychological problems related to these issues and how they eat.

Eating disorders can require long-term medical care and disrupt functioning in school, work, and relationships. While severe cases can lead to permanent disability and even death, recent advances in the understanding of anorexia nervosa provide hope for more success in treatment. Currently, about 75% of people with anorexia nervosa experience improvement with treatment.

Nice To Know:

There are three main types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa, which involves excessive dieting and weight loss
  • Bulimia nervosa, which involves binge eating followed by purging (self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas) and/or other weight-control measures, such as diet pills, excessive exercising, or fasting
  • Binge eating disorder, which involves binge eating without much effort to control weight

Although often thought of as a disorder of recent times, anorexia nervosa was well described in medical literature over 100 years ago. The name, however, is misleading. Anorexia nervosa literally means “nervous loss of appetite.” But people with this disorder lose weight and then maintain an abnormally low weight despite intense hunger.

Facts about anorexia nervosa:

  • Anorexia nervosa occurs in 1% to 5% of the population.
  • About 90% to 95% are females between ages 13 and 30. However, anorexia nervosa can also occur in males and people of all ages.
  • About half of people with eating disorders also experience depression.
  • Although anorexia nervosa is most common in the white upper and middle class, it occurs in people of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • People in certain occupations that emphasize leanness to improve performance and appearance are at increased risk for developing anorexia nervosa. These include dancers, gymnasts, figure skaters, runners, wrestlers, and models.
  • Only one out of ten people with an eating disorder receive treatment.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.


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