Anorexia Symptoms

Jennifer Huddy, MS, RD, LD
Dietitian and Nutrition Writer
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa are things that are experienced by the patient and cannot always be measured or visualized. Symptoms of anorexia can be emotional, behavioral, and physical. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is imperative to seek help. 

Top Anorexia Symptoms

The main characteristic of anorexia nervosa is restricting food intake to a severely inadequate level for the person’s height, age, and activity level. People with anorexia generally have great distress over body image concerns and see themselves as overweight even when they are underweight. Purging can also be present in anorexia. 

The top symptoms of anorexia include: 

  • Intense food restriction 
  • Pursuit of weight loss to the point of underweight
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Purging through vomiting, laxatives, or over-exercise

Emotional Symptoms of Anorexia

Many anorexia symptoms impact a person from an emotional and psychological standpoint. These symptoms can sometimes be difficult for loved ones to identify the extent of, mainly because people with anorexia generally tend to hide their eating disorder. 

Obsession with weight and food

Controlling weight and food intake can dominate the thoughts of people with anorexia. It can feel like it's the only thing they can think about. It interferes with normal daily functioning and often involves planning the day around avoiding food and losing weight.

These symptoms often start as a “diet” but quickly become out of control as the person feels the need to eat less and less until they are only eating tiny amounts of food in a day. Dieting tendencies like counting calories or grams of carbs become obsessive. Denial of hunger and lack of appetite are other common anorexia symptoms used to justify deficient food intake. 

Anorexia causes a person to be very inflexible around food and to have a black-and-white mentality around “good foods” and “bad foods.” This mindset often stems from feeling a lack of control in daily life, so turning towards food and body weight can be a means to feel control. 

Body dysmorphia

Negative body image and body dysmorphia are hallmark symptoms of anorexia. Body dysmorphia is when a person cannot accurately assess how their body looks. They see themselves as being overweight even when their weight is very low. Another symptom is “body checking,” which is when a person frequently weighs themself or pinches at their skin to identify body fat.  

Another symptom of anorexia is an intense fear of gaining weight and being “fat.” This fear can further fuel the food restriction and lack of flexibility around eating. It is also a common barrier to seeking treatment, as restoring weight to a healthy point is the primary goal of anorexia treatment

Behavioral Symptoms of Anorexia

Behavior symptoms of anorexia are often what friends and family pick up on when around a person dealing with anorexia. 

Food rules

One of the symptoms of anorexia is having very particular habits around eating. People with anorexia often fixate on avoiding certain foods or food groups. Odd behaviors while eating are also present, like pushing food around the plate and chewing more than needed. It is common to notice the person making excuses to leave during meal times or to avoid them altogether. 

Isolation

People with anorexia tend to be secretive about their eating habits to avoid confrontation from friends and family that there is a problem. They will avoid eating in public or around others and make a great effort to stay away from situations where food will be present. 

Since food is so entwined with social interactions, avoiding eating in front of others leads to avoiding social gatherings. This causes the person to become increasingly isolated from their family and peers. 

Over-exercise

A common symptom of anorexia is the desire to burn as many calories as possible, which is often done through exercise. The exercise habits are often excessive and inflexible, lasting multiple hours daily despite feeling tired. 

Over-exercise can often be masked under the guise of being an athlete, as many people with anorexia gravitate towards endurance sports. Exercise is considered a form of purging. It is the most common form of purging in anorexia, though other purging methods, such as self-induced vomiting and laxative use, can also occur. 

Physical Symptoms of Anorexia

Physical symptoms can make people with anorexia feel unwell and cause them to have difficulty functioning in day-to-day life. 

Weight loss

One of the primary symptoms of anorexia nervosa is significant weight loss. A person with anorexia restricts food to the point of being underweight. Rapid weight loss can lead to many other physical symptoms, including being cold, feeling weak and lethargic, and losing the menstrual cycle in females. 

Gastrointestinal symptoms

There are numerous gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that accompany anorexia. A lack of appetite is prevalent as the body gets used to very low food intake and starts conserving energy. Other typical symptoms are stomach cramping and pain, constipation, and reflux. 

Once the body adjusts to a minimal food intake, these symptoms can flare up when the person does eat a normal portion of food. GI symptoms are commonly cited by people with anorexia as a barrier to eating more. However, a combination of both physical and emotional discomfort often contributes to this. 

Mental symptoms

A person with anorexia can experience difficulty concentrating and focusing on basic tasks throughout the day due to the lack of fuel to the brain. They may experience feeling dizzy and lightheaded and sometimes pass out as a result. Sleep disturbances are also common. 

Nourish can help

If you are experiencing symptoms of anorexia nervosa, it is imperative to seek help. The long-term consequences of anorexia are serious, and treatment can help minimize these. 

Our registered dietitians are experts in treating eating disorders and provide compassionate care to lead you on a path to recovery. Covered by insurance and with all sessions online, accessing treatment is simple. Start with Nourish today

Sources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1857759/

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia/warning-signs-symptoms

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17644865/ 

Discover a healthier, happier you.

  • Covered by insurance
  • Registered dietitians
  • Virtual sessions
Schedule an appointment

Get started with nutrition therapy today.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.