Eating Disorders
Resources
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest NewsQuestions and AnswersLinksBook Reviews
Related Topics

Anxiety Disorders
Depression: Major Depression & Unipolar Varieties
Personality Disorders
Self Esteem
Mental Disorders

Symptoms - Anorexia Nervosa

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Anorexia Nervosa
Symptoms

People who intentionally starve themselves suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. The disorder, which usually begins in young people around the time of puberty, involves extreme weight loss--at least 15 percent below the individual's normal body weight. Many people with the disorder look emaciated but are convinced they are overweight. Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation.

People with anorexia typically starve themselves, even though they suffer terribly from hunger pains. One of the most frightening aspects of the disorder is that people with anorexia continue to think they are overweight even when they are bone-thin. For reasons not yet understood, they become terrified of gaining any weight.

Food and weight become obsessions. For some, the compulsiveness shows up in strange eating rituals or the refusal to eat in front of others. It is not uncommon for people with anorexia to collect recipes and prepare gourmet feasts for family and friends, but not partake in the meals themselves. They may adhere to strict exercise routines to keep off weight. Loss of monthly menstrual periods is typical in women with the disorder. Men with anorexia often become impotent.

Specific Symptoms of this Disorder:

A person who suffers from this disorder is typically characterized by their refusal to maintain a body weight which is consistent with their build, age and height. Specifically, a person's body weight needs to be 85% or less than that which is considered typical for someone of similar build, age and height.

The individual usually experiences an intense and overwhelming fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. This fear is regardless of the person's actual weight, and will often continue even when the person is near death from starvation. It is related to a person's poor self-image, which is also a symptom of this disorder. The individual suffering from this disorder believes that their body weight, shape and size is directly related to how good they feel about themselves and their worth as a human being. Persons with this disorder often deny the seriousness of their condition and can not objectively evaluate their own weight.

At least three consecutive menstrual cycles must be missed, if the woman was menstruating previously before the onset of the disorder. Specifically, a woman is considered to have amenorrhea if her periods occur only following hormone, e.g., estrogen, administration.

References:
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 94-3477 (1994)