The symptoms of anorexia nervosa involve fear and worry about food intake, weight, and how your body looks.
Anorexia nervosa, also called anorexia, is an eating disorder that causes people to restrict how much food they eat. Symptoms of anorexia vary in intensity from person to person but often develop around a preoccupation with body weight.
The symptoms of anorexia nervosa can take a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health.
One of the main symptoms is the fear of gaining weight. Often, when you have anorexia, you might have a view of your body that doesn’t line up with facts. You might see your body as larger than it really is.
Anorexia symptoms can affect anyone regardless of gender, sexuality, age, race, or other demographics. Learning about anorexia can help you explore treatment options for you or someone you know.
With anorexia, you may experience several physical, mental, or behavioral symptoms.
Not everyone with anorexia nervosa classifies within the low weight range. Some people who have lost a lot of weight due to anorexia are still considered to be in the average or above-average weight range for their age and height. This is called atypical anorexia.
Takeaway: Whether or not you have a smaller body, you could still be experiencing anorexia.
A behavioral sign of anorexia is limiting how much you eat and the kind of foods you eat in a way that impacts your day-to-day life and mental health.
Physical symptoms of anorexia
Living with anorexia may mean you have constant thoughts about food, weight, and the way your body looks. This will impact your eating and exercising habits, for example.
These changes may, in turn, lead you to experience the following physical symptoms of anorexia:
- weight loss
- hair loss
- dry skin
- dry and brittle nails
- feeling cold all the time
- fainting or feeling light-headed
Not everyone with anorexia will have these physical symptoms, though.
Many of the physical symptoms of anorexia are closely related to significant and abrupt weight loss and the health problems it may cause. But the way anorexia looks can vary from person to person.
Psychological symptoms of anorexia
Anorexia can cause you to practice food rituals to avoid gaining weight. These rituals may affect the way you think and feel.
These psychological symptoms of anorexia may include:
- intrusive and irrational thoughts about weight, food, and dieting
- persistent changes in your mood
- symptoms of depression
- feeling “flat” or a lack of emotions
- feeling anxious, guilty, irritable, or ashamed
- body image distortion (thinking you look larger than you actually are)
Behavioral symptoms of anorexia
In addition to limiting foods, people with anorexia may
Other behavioral symptoms of anorexia include:
- wearing a lot of layers or baggy clothes
- eating small amounts of food
- avoiding certain types of food
- constantly eating alone and avoiding meal time with others or in public
- having a rigid exercise routine
- isolating from others
- rigid thinking around food and weight (i.e., a food is either good or bad)
Over time, these behaviors can also make you feel cut off from the people around you.
Anorexia can be difficult to spot. Many people with anorexia are secretive about their eating disorder. And some people experiencing anorexia symptoms don’t recognize when these are impacting their health and relationships.
Early signs of anorexia may include:
- gradually or abruptly decreasing amounts of food or skipping meals
- suddenly adopting a special and strict diet
- spending a lot of time cooking or preparing food
- avoiding meal times, especially in groups or in public
- isolating and spending a lot of time alone
- negatively commenting regularly on own appearance or weight
There are two types of anorexia nervosa: restricting typeand binge eating or purging type. Symptoms of anorexia may vary according to which type you live with.
If you have anorexia restricting type, you may limit your food intake and the types of food you eat.
Binge eating/purging type
The binge eating and purging type of anorexia causes people to eat large amounts of food at once and then purge.
Binge eating/purging type anorexia has common anorexia symptoms but also includes challenges related to purging like:
- swelling around the jaw area (a sign of ongoing vomiting)
- going to the bathroom or “disappearing” after eating
- dental problems such as teeth being discolored or stained
- stomach problems such as constipation or acid reflux
Excessive exercise can also happen with either anorexia type. It’s not uncommon for someone to experience both types of anorexia simultaneously or at different times.
If you think you could have anorexia symptoms, you’ll want to seek care.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health condition.
A supportive medical professional can accurately diagnose your symptoms and provide you with treatment options that can help.
Treatment recommendations for anorexia vary but can include:
- working with a nutritionist
Many people receive treatment at an outpatient level, meaning they work with a treatment team while living at home. Some people need more intensive treatment, which can mean being treated at a hospital or a residential treatment facility.
Your treatment level will depend on how much support you need in your recovery.
For some people, meeting with a medical professional isn’t possible. Taking this quiz may help you determine if your experiences may be related to an eating disorder. Nevertheless, only a medical professional can accurately diagnose your condition.
In addition, online eating disorder support groups or helplines can be supportive, educational, and help you feel less alone.
Helping someone with an eating disorder starts with encouraging them to seek treatment.
Many people with anorexia don’t ask for help. They may feel ashamed about their symptoms or not see that their eating habits are causing them harm.
Talking with your loved one about your concerns can be difficult. Before speaking with your loved one, it can be helpful to:
- Learn about eating disorders. Having accurate information can help you explain your concerns to your loved one.
- Avoid judgment. Tell your loved one that it’s not shameful to have an eating disorder, and recovery is possible.
- Avoid superficial solutions. Stopping eating disorder behaviors isn’t about willpower. It’s not helpful to tell your loved one to “just eat” or “stop purging.”
It can be hard to know what to do if you think someone you care about is experiencing signs of anorexia. This guide from the National Eating Disorders Association could help if you’re looking for more info.
Symptoms of anorexia involve a significant focus on food and your body. This can be exhausting.
Many of the habits that stem from eating disorders can, over time, separate you from people you care about and the activities you enjoy. But even though it may feel as if it’s just you and anorexia, you’re not alone.
People who experience anorexia symptoms might not realize how common it is to feel shame related to their eating disorder, and this can make it very hard to share your experience with others.
Sharing your experience can help you to realize that living with an eating disorder is not shameful.
If you think you might have anorexia, consider seeking care. A healthcare professional can help you find treatment options that will support you through recovery.
While anorexia is a serious condition, with treatment, recovery is possible.