What is Anorexia Nervosa?

By  , Expert Content
Mar 05, 2018
Quick Bites

  • Anorexia nervosa is a common eating disorder, which can be life-threatening
  • The disorder is suspected in a person who weighs at least 15 percent less than his or her normal body weight
  • The disorder is treatable if the person suffering from it realises that she/he has an illness

Anorexia nervosa is a common eating disorder, which can be life-threatening. The literal meaning of anorexia is "loss of appetite", but the term is misleading as people with anorexia nervosa often feel very hungry though they refuse to eat food.

The characteristic features of this disorder are self-starvation and excessive weight loss. A person with anorexia nervosa loses more weight than is considered healthy for his or her age and height by severely decreasing food intake. They may have a distorted perception of their body weight or shape and have an intense fear of weight gain (even when they are much below normal weight for age and height). They may diet, do excessive exercises or use other methods to lose weight.

The disorder is suspected in a person who weighs at least 15 percent less than his or her normal body weight. Extreme weight loss and severe malnutrition in people with anorexia nervosa can cause significant health problems and, sometimes, even death.

The exact cause of this eating disorder is not known. Currently, the various factors that are considered as possible causes include genes, hormones and social attitudes promoting very thin body types. Many experts do not consider family conflicts as a cause of this or other eating disorders.

Read: Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa


Some risk factors of anorexia nervosa are:

  • Aiming to be perfect and exceedingly focused on rules
  • Being excessively concerned about weight or body shape
  • History of eating problems in infancy or early childhood
  • Social or cultural ideas about health and beauty such as very thin body types being considered as beautiful
  • Having a negative perception of his or her image
  • History of anxiety disorder as a child

Most cases of anorexia begin during the teen years or young adulthood. The disorder is much more common in females, but it can affect males as well. It often affects white women, who are high academic achievers and are goal-oriented.

Read: Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa

The disorder is treatable, but the major challenge while treating anorexia nervosa is making the person realise that she (or he) has an illness. Most people with anorexia nervosa do not accept the fact that they have an eating disorder. Many people start the treatment when their condition becomes serious due to extreme malnutrition. There are many types of treatments for anorexia. Treatment usually involves a combination of strategies. The doctor starts the treatment based on one’s age, overall health, duration of anorexia and other factors. The aim of the treatment is to treat the condition and any associated medical complication.

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