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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Signs you need treatment for anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder that can have many detrimental effects on someone's mental, physical, and emotional health. However, the condition is treatable and can often be spotted through various signs.

Learning more about the signs of anorexia can help you to recognize AN in yourself or a loved one and seek out the kind of care that can allow you or your loved one to achieve recovery.

There are many anorexia health risks, which present as symptoms and signs of anorexia nervosa (AN). If you have one or several of these symptoms, it’s important to seek advice from your medical doctor or mental health provider.

Some signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Extreme weight loss (refusing to eat, denying hunger feelings, not consuming enough food to sustain weight)
  • Obsession with food, calories, and dieting 
  • Starting and participating in food rituals
  • Distorted body image
  • Weakness
  • Over-exercising
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Slow heart rate
  • Hair loss 
  • Change in overall functioning
  • Change in interactions with others – finding excuses not to be around others 
  • Mood and emotional changes
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicide
  • Purging behaviors
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of menses
  • Frequent dizziness 
  • Palpitations
  • Constipation and other problems in the gastrointestinal system
Last updated on 
January 23, 2024
January 23, 2024
Anorexia health risks
In this article

Physical signs of anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is a mental health disorder, but the low body weight and disordered eating habits that accompany the condition often lead to a number of physical symptoms.

Physical signs of anorexia can be especially dangerous, so if you're noticing these issues in yourself or a loved one, it's important to seek out help.

Heart health complications
Lack of menses
Hair loss
Gastrointestinal discomfort
Bone health issues

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Mental and emotional anorexia signs

Weight loss and a fear of gaining weight may result in many physical signs of anorexia, but the condition is, at its core, a mental health disorder. As such, there are several emotional and behavioral signs of anorexia nervosa.

These traits tend to maintain the condition and can bring on a relapse even in cases when someone reaches a healthy weight, so it's crucial to incorporate a mental health professional when treating anorexia nervosa.

Preoccupation with food, eating, and body image
Low self-esteem
Co-occurring mental health disorders

Life-threatening signs of anorexia nervosa

While many signs of anorexia can be uncomfortable, some can be life-threatening if left untreated. Blood pressure issues, electrolyte abnormalities, irregular heartbeat, and other cardiac problems, in particular, are the most life-threatening.10

Mental health complications of AN can also prove deadly. Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death for patients with anorexia nervosa. And as many as one-third of people with AN have at least considered suicide, according to one study on the subject.11

All told the risk of death from anorexia nervosa is about 12 times higher than those in the general population and 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females aged 15 to 24.12 This is why it's so important to seek out help as soon as possible.

Finding help for anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a dangerous mental health condition. While understanding the signs of anorexia is a crucial aspect of understanding the disorder, it's essential for someone struggling with AN to seek appropriate care.

Remote treatment that works

At Within Health, we strive to offer that help. Our team of multidisciplinary experts can help patients work through both the mental and physical signs of anorexia, developing individual treatment plans that are suited to each patient's specific history and current needs.

The entire program can be followed from home through our website and app, with food and medical equipment delivered right to your door.

Get help today

Remember: It's never too late to reach out for help. Often, it's the first—and most important—step on the road to recovery.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Mehler, P. S., & Brown, C. (2015). Anorexia nervosa - medical complications. Journal of Eating Disorders, 3, 11.
  2. Golden, N. H., & Shenker, I. R. (1994). Amenorrhea in anorexia nervosa. Neuroendocrine control of hypothalamic dysfunction. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 16(1), 53–60.
  3. Almohanna, H., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and Therapy, 9, 51-70.
  4. Santonicola, A., Gagliardi, M., Guarino, M. P. L., Siniscalchi, M., Ciacci, C., & Iovino, P. (2019). Eating Disorders and Gastrointestinal Diseases. Nutrients, 11(12), 3038.
  5. Misra, M., & Klibanski, A. (2011). Bone health in anorexia nervosa. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity, 18(6), 376–382.
  6. DSM-IV to DSM-5 Anorexia Nervosa Comparison. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed November 2023. 
  7. Anorexia nervosa. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed November 2023. 
  8. Silverstone, P. H. (1992). Is chronic low self-esteem the cause of eating disorders? Medical Hypothesis, 39(4), 311-315.
  9. Marucci, S., Ragione, L. D., De Iaco, G., Mococci, T., et. al. (2018). Anorexia Nervosa and Comorbid Psychopathology. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders-Drug Targets, 18(4), 316-324.
  10. Harrington, B. C., Jimerson M., Haxton, C., Jimerson, D. C. (2015). Initial evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. American Family Physician, 91(1), 46-52. 
  11. Smith, A. R., Zuromski, K. L., & Dodd, D. R. (2018). Eating disorders and suicidality: what we know, what we don't know, and suggestions for future research. Current Opinion in Psychology, 22, 63–67.
  12. Eating Disorders. (n.d.). South Carolina Department of Mental Health. Accessed November 2023.

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