Causes & Symptoms
Causes of Anorexia nervosa
There is no one definitive cause of anorexia, however, there are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a person developing anorexia. These are as follows:
- Genetic vulnerability: this can be illustrated in family history of eating disorders, or other mental health disorders.
- Societal or occupational pressure to look a certain way.
- Experience of trauma, including abuse.
- Experience of anxiety, obsessional or perfectionistic traits.
- Experience of criticism of food intake, weight or bodily appearance, for example, bullying.
- Childhood anxiety.
Anorexia nervosa Symptoms
There are four key features associated with anorexia:
- Dietary restriction.
- Overwhelming fear of being a normal weight.
- Persistent behaviours that hinder weight gain.
- A distorted perception of one’s own weight or shape, and a disproportionate effect of this on perception of self-worth.
Beyond this, there are further physical, psychological, and behavioural symptoms, that individuals with anorexia may experience. Not all of the below symptoms are required for a diagnosis of anorexia but may be present:
- Low body weight.
- Loss of menstruation (periods) in females.
- Coldness due to poor circulation, particularly in hands and feet.
- Abdominal pain.
- Gastrointestinal disturbances, e.g. bloating, constipation.
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Thin hair that may fall out.
- Fine hair appearing on the body.
- Fear of reaching a normal weight, or of putting on weight at all.
- Feelings of depression, including, such as low mood, irritability, social isolation.
- Preoccupation or obsession with food.
- Fear of social or public eating.
- Body image disturbance and fixation.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Mood swings.
- Low self-esteem.
- Self-induced vomiting.
- Use of appetite suppressant pills or laxatives.
- Excessive/ driven exercise.
- Loss of libido.
- Wearing baggy clothing to hide figure.
- Avoidance of social activities.
Warning Signs of Anorexia
If you worry that a friend or loved one is experiencing Anorexia, there are signs you can look out for. These do not guarantee your loved one has anorexia but can be indicative:
- Rapid, significant weight loss.
- Wearing baggy clothing.
- Not eating socially.
- If you see them at mealtimes, they are exhibiting very restrictive eating.
- They are excessively exercising.
- They are expressing excessive concern about their body weight, or shape.
If you feel these may apply to your friend or loved one, it is always best to talk to them about it in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental manner and support and encourage them in getting the help that they need, making sure you are there for them emotionally throughout their journey to recovery. Try to educate yourself about eating disorders before approaching the topic with your loved one to understand better what they may be going through. Talk somewhere private and comfortable, at a time of low distress (i.e. not directly before or after a meal).
Don’t wait too long to approach the subject with them, as the earlier they get help, the better their chances of recovery. However, you must aim to not be too pushy with how you say this, as saying something along the lines of “you need to get help now” can feel harsh and blunt. Aim for something softer but still motivational, such as “I’ll be here to support you in going to get help when you’re ready to do so”.