Anorexia - PsychGuides.com (2022)

Anorexia - PsychGuides.com (1)Anorexia nervosa (commonly referred to as anorexia) is a serious mental health condition that can drastically impair a person’s physical health. When a person severely restricts food intake and limits or eliminates vital nutrients, their body’s systems can begin to slow down, leading to several potential short- and long-term effects – many of which can be fatal.

Anorexia has one of the highest death rates of any mental illness, claiming the lives of between 5-20% of the people who suffer from it.1 Recognizing the signs and symptoms of anorexia can help a person get treatment early, which increases the chance of recovery.

This article answers the following frequently asked questions about anorexia:

  • What is anorexia?
  • What are anorexia signs and symptoms?
  • What causes anorexia?
  • What are the short-term and long-term anorexia effects?
  • How are depression and anorexia related?
  • What facts and statistics are available about anorexia?
  • How can a person get help for anorexia?

What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to lose an unhealthy amount of weight. It is characterized by a fear of gaining weight even in those who are already underweight or may be dieting and exercising to lose weight.

Anorexia is far more common in females. But it can occur in males as well. It is a severe illness that can be life-threatening if not treated.1,2

Many celebrities have battled anorexia. Read about a few of them below.

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Signs and Symptoms

A person must meet certain criteria to be officially diagnosed with anorexia. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. (DSM-V) outlines the following 3 criteria:3

  • Severe fear of becoming fat or gaining weight, even though the person is medically underweight based on body mass index (BMI).
  • Distorted perception of one’s body weight and shape, denial of the seriousness of being underweight, or over-influence of body shape or weight on one’s evaluation of self.
  • Restricting caloric intake, which leads to lower energy levels and significantly low body weight for one’s age, height, physical health, and development.

A person with anorexia usually displays several warning signs. These include the following anorexia symptoms:1,2,4, 6

  • Significant weight loss that has no other explanation
  • Exercising all the time even when it may be difficult to do so
  • Refusing to eat around other people
  • Irritable mood
  • Isolating oneself from friends and withdrawing from activities
  • Using diuretics, dieting pills, or laxatives
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals
  • Blotchy or yellow skin
  • Extreme sensitivity to cold
  • Decreased bone mineral density
  • Thinning hair
  • Wasting away of muscles or body fat
  • Frequent comments about being fat
  • Abnormal behaviors surrounding food
  • Developing food rituals such as rearranging food on the plate or excessive chewing
  • In women, missed period for 3 or more cycles
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Slowed thinking
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Wearing layers of clothing even during hot temperatures
  • Frequently looking in the mirror
  • Eating only a few “safe” foods
  • Repeatedly weighing or measuring oneself
  • Obsessively thinking one is fat even when underweight
  • Self-esteem overly shaped by weight loss
  • Depression

If you have observed these symptoms in yourself or someone else, call our helpline at .

What Causes Anorexia?

Anorexia - PsychGuides.com (2)
The exact causes of anorexia aren’t fully understood. It is complex illness that may have many contributing factors.

  • It can begin after a stressful life event, such as leaving home for college, moving to a new place, or breaking up with a significant other.
  • It may also be caused by inherited biological and personality traits. For example, some people may have a genetic predisposition to traits such as perfectionism and sensitivity, which are both associated with anorexia.5,6
  • People who are goal-oriented and high achievers are also more susceptible to the condition.2

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors can predispose a person to developing anorexia. These include:1, 2, 5, 6, 7

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  • Genetics: Research studies on twins suggest that between 30-75% of cases of anorexia occur because of heritability.7
  • Culture: Modern Western culture places a strong emphasis on being thin, especially for women. Many people equate their self-worth and feelings of success with their body weight and size, which can lead them to take drastic measures to achieve such ideals. 5,6
  • Peer pressure: Those who feel a significant amount of peer pressure to stay thin may also be more likely to develop anorexia. Peer pressure is especially common in teenagers, who are heavily influenced by their peers’ opinions.5
  • Age: People of all ages can develop anorexia. But it is most common in young people and rarely occurs in people over the age of 40. Teenagers are the most susceptible. According to research, 3 out of every 100 teens develops anorexia.6
  • Gender: As many as 90-95% of people who suffer from anorexia are girls or women.1
  • Family history of an eating disorder: Having a first-degree relative (parent, child, or sibling) who has had anorexia greatly increases a person’s risk. 5,6
  • Certain occupations: Models, athletes, and performers (dancers, actors, etc.) are at a higher risk for developing anorexia because they often face significantly more pressure to look a certain way. 5,6
  • Life transitions: Any major life transition such as changing schools or jobs, breaking up with a partner, losing a loved one, or moving to a new home can increase a person’s risk for anorexia and similar eating disorders. 5,6
  • Psychological difficulties: Negative self-image, coping with painful or overwhelming emotions, or recovering from trauma can all increase a person’s susceptibility to anorexia. 2,6

Short-Term Effects

Anorexia causes many physical complications and health problems. Many anorexia effects can be severe and even life-threatening.

Some of the short-term effects of anorexia include:1,4,5

  • Weight loss.
  • Dehydration.
  • Dry skin and hair.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Insomnia.

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the above anorexia effects, seek help as soon as possible. According to experts, seeking treatment early on greatly increase a person’s chance of recovery and can significantly reduce the risk of more serious complications.1

Long-Term Effects

If left untreated, a person with anorexia can suffer many long-term health effects, such as:1,4,5

  • Bone weakening (osteoporosis).
  • Anemia.
  • Seizures.
  • Thyroid problems.
  • Lack of vitamins and minerals.
  • Low potassium levels in the blood.
  • Decrease in white blood cells.
  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation in females).
  • Lowered testosterone in males.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Hair loss.
  • Abnormally low blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to heart failure.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Suicide.
  • Death from health complications.

Treatment can help reverse some of the effects of anorexia and help you get your life back. Call to get more information about rehab programs.

Side Effects

Anorexia - PsychGuides.com (3)
In addition to the physical health problems that anorexia causes, a person may have other anorexia side effects, such as:

  • Mood swings.
  • Lowered self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Strained personal relationships.
  • Poor school and work performance.
  • Missing out on important activities.
  • Lying to others.
  • Avoiding social situations where food is present.

Though perhaps not as dire as anorexia’s health complications, these social, emotional, and behavioral changes can have significant negative impacts on a person’s life.

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Depression and Anorexia

Many people with anorexia suffer from depression and may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Depressed mood.
  • Irritability.
  • Insomnia.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Reduced interest in sex.

Many of these symptoms may be related to semi-starvation or from being heavily focused on eating and weight.

Depression and anorexia can influence each other. A person may have depression, which leads to anorexia. Alternatively, a person suffering from anorexia may develop depression because of their illness.

Anorexia Facts and Statistics

The following are some facts and statistics about anorexia and how many people are affected.

  • 90-95% of people with anorexia are women.1
  • Between 0.5-1% of American women suffer from anorexia.1
  • The prevalence rate among teenage girls is between 0.3-0.7%.7
  • 33-50% of people suffering from anorexia have a co-occurring mood disorder such as depression.8
  • 50% of people suffering from anorexia have a co-occurring anxiety disorder.8
  • Up to two-thirds of people with anorexia have obsessive-compulsive disorder.6
  • Between 5-20% of people who suffer from anorexia will die.1
  • Suicide is responsible for 50% of deaths associated with anorexia.6

Getting Help for Anorexia

If you or someone you love is struggling with anorexia, there is hope. Treatment can help people gain weight and restore health as well as address underlying psychological causes.4

Treatment can be difficult, and many people relapse. But long-term studies indicate that approximately 50-70% of people recover from anorexia. The most effective treatment consists of a combination of medicine, psychotherapy, and family therapy.6

To learn more about anorexia treatment options for yourself or your loved one, contact our recovery support team for information and resources at .

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Read next: Anorexia Treatment Program Options

Sources

[1]. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Anorexia Nervosa.

[2]. MentalHealth.Gov. Anorexia Nervosa.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

[4]. Berger, F. (2016). Anorexia. U.S. National Library of Medicine.

[5]. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Anorexia Nervosa.

[6]. Ehrlich, S. (2015). Anorexia Nervosa. University of Maryland Medical Center.

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[7]. Lock, J. & La Via, M.C. (2015). Practice Parameter for The Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Eating Disorders. Journal of The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(5): 412-425.

[8]. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Eating Disorder Statistics.

FAQs

How do you cope with anorexia nervosa? ›

Here are 7 things you can do to start feeling strong and in control again.
  1. Set Goals You Can Meet. Your biggest goal is to stick with the treatment plan that you and your doctor create. ...
  2. Practice Smart Eating Habits. ...
  3. Wear Clothes You Like. ...
  4. Pamper Yourself. ...
  5. Ask for Emotional Support. ...
  6. Help Others. ...
  7. Give Your Mind a Rest.
13 Sept 2020

Is not eating a coping mechanism? ›

More often than not, an eating disorder acts partly as a coping mechanism. Many who suffer from anorexia describe the need to “have control over something” in a world where they feel they otherwise do not. The restriction of food may provide a sense of security, structure, or order that feels reassuring.

What is the average BMI for anorexics? ›

That being said, a BMI below 17.5 in adults is one of the common physical characteristics used to diagnose anorexia. There are also different tiers of anorexia based on BMI ranging from mild (<17.5), moderate (16-16.99), and severe (15-15.99), to extreme (<15).

What percentage of anorexia nervosa patients fully recover? ›

Research suggests that around 46% of anorexia patients fully recover, a 33% improving and 20% remaining chronically ill. Similar research into bulimia suggests that 45% make a full recovery, 27% improve considerably and 23% suffer chronically.

How do you love your body after anorexia? ›

Become a critical viewer of social media messages.

Pay attention to slogans, images, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Remind yourself that many of them are not real. Unfollow social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself and find body-positive ambassadors instead!

What feelings does a person with anorexia have? ›

People with anorexia often have common traits, including: low self-esteem, feeling worthless or like you're not good enough. Losing weight can start to feel like a sense of achievement or a way to feel a sense of worth. perfectionism.

What are the mental effects of not eating? ›

Many of the nutrients in food affect the emotional centres of our brain and reducing these nutrients or affecting their balance has an adverse effect on mood. Under-eaters generally feel depressed, low, and prone to be easily irritated or enraged.

How does not eating affect you mentally? ›

Conversely, an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and can slow down reaction time. In fact, a poor diet can actually aggravate, and may even lead to, stress and depression. One of the biggest health impairments is society's reliance on processed foods.

What is starvation anxiety? ›

Restricted eating, malnourishment, and excessive weight loss can lead to changes in our brain chemistry, resulting in increased symptoms of depression and anxiety (Centre for Clinical Interventions, 2018b). These changes in brain chemistry and poor mental health outcomes skew reality.

Is a BMI of 15.9 anorexic? ›

Defining severity in anorexia nervosa (AN) is a significant challenge, therefore in 2013, the DSM-5 [1]—in line with the new specifiers for mental disorders—introduced body mass index (BMI) specifiers, including mild (i.e., BMI ≥ 17), moderate (i.e., BMI between 16 and 16.9), severe (i.e., BMI between 15 and 15.9), and ...

At what BMI does your period stop? ›

Being underweight can cause you to not have a period. This commonly occurs in competitive athletes and women with eating disorders. Women need at least 22% body fat to menstruate regularly. 11 Having a BMI of 18.5 or under can impact your period.

What amount of weight loss is considered anorexic? ›

Extreme weight loss is a significant sign of anorexia, such as when body weight drops below 15% of the expected weight for a person of that age and height, or their BMI is less than 17.5.

How many times do anorexics relapse? ›

Research indicates that more than a third of all patients treated for anorexia or bulimia relapse within the first few years of completing treatment. The highest risk for relapse from anorexia nervosa occurs in the first 18 months after treatment, with 35% falling back into eating disordered behaviors.

Is There Life After anorexia? ›

Life after anorexia treatment is never going to be easy. However, it's worth putting in the effort. With the right attitude and the right support, you can live a long, happy and healthy life free of your eating disorder.

Can you recover End stage anorexia? ›

Ultimately, the current recommended treatment for an individual with end-stage anorexia nervosa is to receive medical care to replenish nourishment. As mentioned above, it is possible for individuals to heal from even the most severe physical impacts of restriction.

What are 3 physical effects of anorexia? ›

Physical signs and symptoms of anorexia may include:
  • Extreme weight loss or not making expected developmental weight gains.
  • Thin appearance.
  • Abnormal blood counts.
  • Fatigue.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Bluish discoloration of the fingers.
  • Hair that thins, breaks or falls out.
20 Feb 2018

How many calories do anorexics need to recover? ›

It is not uncommon for daily caloric needs of people recovering from anorexia to reach 3,000 to 5,000 daily calories for a sufficient 1/2 pound to 2 pounds per week weight gain until achieving goal weight. This is especially true for adolescents who are still growing and young adults.

Does anorexia change your personality? ›

Individuals with anorexia nervosa are known to have high levels of harm avoidance, a personality trait that is characterized by worry, pessimistic thinking, doubt, and shyness.

What anorexia does to your memory? ›

Directed-forgetting: individuals with eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, display more difficulty in forgetting information or cues related to body, shape and food than those without eating disorders. This leads to greater availability of such memories, facilitating the maintenance of the eating disorder.

Does anorexia start as a choice? ›

Therefore, developing anorexia is largely associated with one's genetics—and those cannot be chosen. By the time someone has reached a point that they require therapeutic intervention for their eating disorder, they have often lost control over many or all of the related behaviors.

What are 4 signs of anorexia? ›

Symptoms of Anorexia
  • You don't eat enough, so you're underweight.
  • Your self-esteem is based on the way your body looks.
  • You are obsessed with and terrified of gaining weight.
  • It's hard for you to sleep through the night.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Your hair is falling out.
  • You no longer get your period.
  • Constipation.
7 Sept 2022

What happens when u only eat once a day? ›

Eating one meal a day can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol. This occurred in a group of healthy adults who switched to one meal a day to participate in a study. If you already have concerns in either area, eating just once a day might not be safe. Eating one meal late can cause your blood sugar to spike.

How long can you go without food before being hospitalized? ›

In general, it is likely that a person could survive between 1 and 2 months without food. As many different factors influence the length of time that the body can last without food, this period will vary among individuals.

What happens if you eat too little? ›

When your body goes into starvation mode, you are at increased risk for the following: Abnormally low blood pressure and slow heart rate. Heart rhythm abnormalities. Electrolyte imbalances, especially potassium deficiency.

Can you go crazy from lack of food? ›

Undernutrition, or lack of food, does not normally lead to hallucinations. Symptoms of undernutrition include a reduction in body fat, sunken eyes, sparse and dry hair that falls out easily, fatigue, diarrhea, inability to stay warm, irritability, apathy and possibly stupor.

What happens to your brain when you eat less? ›

Low blood sugar can zap your energy, making you feel sluggish and weak, Zeitlin says. It can also make it hard to concentrate because your brain doesn't have the fuel it needs to think straight. Other low blood sugar symptoms can include shakiness, sweatiness, and irritability.

What foods increase happiness? ›

Collard greens, spinach, kale, cabbage, and other leafy greens contain high levels of magnesium, a nutrient that can boost serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone. Leafy greens also contain a lot of fiber.

How do I know if my body is in starvation mode? ›

Here are nine signs that you're not eating enough.
  1. Low Energy Levels. Calories are units of energy your body uses to function. ...
  2. Hair Loss. Losing hair can be very distressing. ...
  3. Constant Hunger. ...
  4. Problems Trying to Get Pregnant. ...
  5. Sleep Issues. ...
  6. Irritability. ...
  7. Feeling Cold All the Time. ...
  8. Constipation.

How do you eat after starving? ›

When recovering from starvation syndrome, a registered dietitian nutritionist may be recommend to “eat by the clock” at the beginning to get your child's body used to consuming food regularly. For most folks, the goal is to aim for 3 meals as well as and 2-4 snacks each day.

What BMI is dangerously underweight? ›

If your BMI is below 18.5, this suggests that your weight may be too low. If you're underweight, or you're concerned that someone you know is, tell a GP or practice nurse.

At what BMI are you considered skinny? ›

If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range. If your BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, it falls within the normal or Healthy Weight range. If your BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, it falls within the overweight range. If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obese range.

At what BMI are you hospitalized? ›

for hospitalization:

BMI < 13 is an indicatior for certification under the Mental Health Act if the patient refuses admission although BMI < 13 alone is not enough for admission.

Do you lose weight when you sleep? ›

Summary. People do lose weight during sleep. However, this is mostly due to water loss through breathing and sweating. While individuals do not burn much fat during sleep, sleep is a fundamental component of well-being, and a lack of it can make maintaining a moderate weight more difficult.

How many calories does it take to get your period back? ›

What to Eat to Get Your Period Back. When it comes to healing hypothalamic amenorrhea, food quantity is more important than anything else. You've got to have enough food to fill that hole back in. I recommend 2,000 calories a day as a minimum for women who are already healthy.

How much should I weigh to get my period? ›

Most girls get their first period between the age of 9 and 16, and puberty normally begins around the age of 8 to 14. Most girls will not start menstruation until they weigh at least 100 pounds. Puberty hormones lead to girls developing breast, hips, pubic hair, and growing in height.

What are the chances of surviving anorexia? ›

The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old. Without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%.

How long will it take me to recover from anorexia? ›

Recovery from an eating disorder can take months, even years. Slips, backslides, and relapse tend to be the rule, rather than the exception. Re-learning normal eating habits and coping skills can take a long period of time and often requires lots of support from professionals, friends, and family.

What can trigger a relapse of anorexia? ›

Each person has their own triggers. They often include feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or lonely. Sometimes an upsetting or traumatic experience can be a trigger. Some people are more likely to relapse at certain times of the year or when there are big changes to routine, for example during holidays or exams.

Does anorexia destroy the brain? ›

Anorexia is a mental health condition that involves compulsively restricting food intake. Because of a restricted diet, many people with anorexia experience cognitive problems. In extreme cases, anorexia can cause brain damage. Research has shown that starvation caused by anorexia can lead to brain damage.

What are three long-term effects of anorexia? ›

Long-Term Effects

If left untreated, a person with anorexia can suffer many long-term health effects, such as: Bone weakening (osteoporosis). Anemia. Seizures.

What happens after years of anorexia? ›

The longer a person struggles with anorexia and irregular or ceased periods, the more likely bone loss is permanent. Neurological damage can also occur that can affect other issues such as seizures, disordered thinking, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.

When does anorexia become serious? ›

The disorder is diagnosed when a person weighs at least 15% less than their normal/ideal body weight. Extreme weight loss in people with anorexia nervosa can lead to dangerous health problems and even death.

What are 7 physical consequences of anorexia? ›

Common signs and symptoms include loss of subcutaneous fat tissue, orthostatic hypotension, bradycardia, impaired menstrual function, hair loss, and hypothermia.

Is there a permanent cure for anorexia? ›

You can't recover from anorexia without returning to a healthy weight and learning proper nutrition. Those involved in this process may include: Your primary care doctor, who can provide medical care and supervise your calorie needs and weight gain.

How do you deal with depression and anorexia? ›

Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa and Major Depressive Disorder
  1. Cognitive Behavioral therapy.
  2. Family therapy.
  3. Group therapy.
  4. Medication management.
  5. Nutritional management and nutritional counseling.
  6. In some cases, hospitalization might be necessary.

What happens to a person with anorexia nervosa? ›

Behavioral symptoms of anorexia may include attempts to lose weight by: Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting. Exercising excessively. Bingeing and self-induced vomiting to get rid of food, which may include the use of laxatives, enemas, diet aids or herbal products.

What treatment works best for patients with anorexia? ›

However, many people with anorexia do see an improvement with therapy. CBT and IPT are the most established treatments for binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. FBT is the most established type of therapy for children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa, and may also be beneficial for those with bulimia nervosa.

Which of the following is a goal for a person with anorexia nervosa? ›

Goals of eating disorder treatment include: Restoring patients to a healthy body weight. Stabilizing accompanying symptoms and medical conditions of the eating disorder. Reducing or eliminating negative behaviors including bingeing, purging, and compulsive exercise.

Is There life After anorexia? ›

Life after anorexia treatment is never going to be easy. However, it's worth putting in the effort. With the right attitude and the right support, you can live a long, happy and healthy life free of your eating disorder.

Which antidepressant is best for anorexia? ›

Prozac (fluoxetine) is an SRI and has proven to support treatment for people with anorexia and depression. Cyproheptadine – Is an antihistamine that stimulates appetite and may help relieve depression associated with appetite loss and improve appetite for people with anorexia.

How long will an anorexic live? ›

A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reported the following eating disorder statistics: 5-10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease and 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years.

What are the 2 main causes of anorexia? ›

The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown. However, the condition sometimes runs in families; young women with a parent or sibling with an eating disorder are likelier to develop one themselves. Then there are psychological, environmental, and social factors that may contribute to the development of anorexia.

Can anorexia be fully cured? ›

You can't recover from anorexia without returning to a healthy weight and learning proper nutrition. Those involved in this process may include: Your primary care doctor, who can provide medical care and supervise your calorie needs and weight gain.

What is the most common medication for anorexia? ›

In addition to SSRI and SNRI drugs, atypical antipsychotics are also used in the treatment of anorexia [5]. Olanzapine, and Quetiapine are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

What are some simple remedies for anorexia? ›

5 Natural Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, “Anorexia isn't really about food. ...
  • Help from a Dietician or Nutritionist. ...
  • Support from Family and Friends. ...
  • Joining an Ongoing Support Group. ...
  • Increasing Self-Worth in Other Ways.
24 Feb 2017

Can anorexia be cured at home? ›

Most kids and teens with anorexia can be treated at home, but some will need to go to a more intensive day or residential treatment program. Someone with severe weight loss and malnutrition or serious health issues will need treatment in a hospital.

What is the primary motivation of people with anorexia nervosa? ›

Anorexia is driven by an extreme desire for self-control, power, and sense of personal achievement - all of which are types of intrinsic motivation.

What are 3 facts about anorexia nervosa? ›

  • Between 1–5% of all female adolescents and young women suffer from anorexia.
  • 33-50% of anorexia patients have a comorbid mood disorder such as depression.
  • Half of anorexia patients have comorbid anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or social phobias.
  • 50-80% of anorexia is caused by genetics.
8 Jul 2020

What is the most important characteristic of the anorexia nervosa? ›

The main sign is significant weight loss or low body weight. In atypical anorexia nervosa, the person may still have a moderate weight despite substantial weight loss.

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