What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

Aggie Read, RN

Some of the early signs of anorexia nervosa are:

  • perfectionism, striving for control
  • a preoccupation with weight 
  • an obsessive increase in activity or exercise
  • a drastic reduction in food and drink
  • an unusual focus on food, recipes, or preparing food for others 

Over time, this can lead to extreme weight loss, social isolation, and denial of the problem. As the malnourishment progresses, all body systems are affected. In addition to the weight loss, some of the ongoing signs of anorexia nervosa are:

  • skin becomes pale and less elastic
  • loss of muscle tone
  • fatigue
  • hair loss 
  • loss of tooth enamel
  • heart problems
  • loss of regular menstrual cycle

Anorexia nervosa is a severe, life-threatening eating disorder. Sufferers are at least 15 percent below normal weight, are terrified of gaining an ounce, and obsess about their body shape and size. Other symptoms can include:

  • Missed periods
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Lack of interest in school, friends, or activities
  • Preoccupation with food (preparing it, counting calories, but not eating it)
  • Secretive, self-induced vomiting (including use of syrup of ipecac)
  • Laxative use
  • Excessive exercising
  • Anxiety at mealtimes
  • Anemia
  • Insomnia

One in ten people who battle anorexia die from severe weight loss, a weakened heart, or suicide. Survivors may suffer bone loss, infertility, and many other serious consequences.

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People with anorexia may:
  • Eat tiny portions, refuse to eat or deny they are hungry
  • Show abnormal weight loss - as much as 15 percent or more of their body weight
  • Be hyperactive, depressed, moody or insecure
  • Exercise excessively and compulsively.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa can include:
  • distorted body image and intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
  • excessive weight loss
  • menstrual irregularities
  • excessive body/facial hair
  • compulsive exercise

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.