What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by extreme food restriction, a distorted body image perception, and a profound fear of gaining weight.1 It can be serious and potentially fatal. However, there are successful treatment options involving a combination of psychological therapy, nutritional counseling, and/or hospitalization.
The following are a few statistics about anorexia:
- Eighteen years old is the median age of anorexia onset.2
- Females have three times higher lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa than males.
- Suicide accounts for one out of every five deaths among anorexic patients.3
- A comorbid mood disorder, such as depression, affects 33% – 50% of anorexic patients.4
- A genetic component accounts for 50% – 80% of the risk of developing anorexia nervosa.5
Jump to Section
- What is Anorexia Nervosa?
- Symptoms of Anorexia
- Is Anorexia Treatment Covered by Insurance?
- Causes & Risk Factors of Anorexia
- Anorexia Diagnosis & Testing
- Anorexia Treatment & Therapy
- Find Eating Disorder Treatment in Tennessee
Symptoms of Anorexia
You can’t tell if someone has anorexia merely by looking at them since anorexia encompasses mental, behavioral, and physical aspects. Anorexia does not require a person to be underweight, and it can affect people of all shapes and sizes.
Due to the cultural stigma associated with fat and obesity, overweight people may be less likely to be diagnosed. Furthermore, it is possible to be underweight without having anorexia.
It’s critical to seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing the signs and symptoms of anorexia listed below:
Anorexia’s Emotional and Mental Symptoms
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Inability to realistically judge your weight and shape (having a distorted sense of self-image)
- Unhealthy obsession with food, calories, and dieting
- Even if you’re underweight, you may feel overweight or “fat.”
- Phobia of certain foods or food groups
- Extremely self-critical
- Denying the severity of your low body weight and/or dietary restrictions
- Strong urge to be in control
- Suicidal or self-harming thoughts.
Behavioral Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
- Changes in eating patterns or habits, like eating certain items in a specific order or rearranging food on a plate
- Rapid shift in eating habits, like the elimination of certain foods or food groups
- Making frequent comments about feeling “fat,” “big,” or “overweight”
- Purging by intentionally and/or abusing laxatives or diuretics
- Going to the restroom immediately after eating
- Taking appetite suppressants or diet pills
- Extreme physical training or compulsive overexercise
- Continuing to diet despite being underweight
- Cooking for others but not for yourself
- Wearing loose clothing and/or layers
- Withdrawing from social gatherings and friends
Anorexia’s Physical Signs
Low body weight for a person’s height, sex, and stature is the most well-known physical indicator of anorexia. However, it’s important to remember that anorexia can exist without being underweight. There are physical symptoms of anorexia that are indeed side effects of starvation and malnutrition, in addition to weight-related indicators.
- Loss of a significant amount of weight over the course of several weeks
- Maintaining an unhealthy body weight
- Unexpected changes in growth curves or body mass index (BMI) among growing children and adolescents
- Slow or irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Constantly feeling cold
- Irregularity or the absence of menstrual periods
- Shortness of breath
- Gastrointestinal issues or pain
- Decrease in muscle mass and muscle weakening
- Dry skin, fragile nails, and/or thinning hair
- Frequent illness
- Wounds do not heal properly
- Hands and feet are bluish or purple in color
Is Anorexia Treatment Covered by Insurance?
Most insurance policies cover some aspects of eating disorder treatment. However, your specific insurance plan, the state in which you live, and the severity of your disorder determine the amount of treatment covered.
For example, insurance companies may deny anorexia therapy treatment coverage if your weight is not low enough. Fill in our confidential insurance verification form below to find out if your insurance provider may be able to cover the cost of treatment.
Causes & Risk Factors of Anorexia
Research suggests that a mix of genetic factors, psychological traits, and environmental aspects, particularly sociocultural influences, may cause anorexia. Although, the specific cause of anorexia is unknown.
The following could all have a cause and effect on persons with anorexia:
- Emotional Health: Perfectionism, impulsive behavior, and problematic relationships can all contribute to a person’s self-esteem and perceived low self-worth.
- Environment and Culture: Cultures that idealize a specific body type — typically “slim” bodies — can pressure people to meet unrealistic body goals. Thinness is frequently associated with popularity, success, attractiveness, and happiness in popular culture and imagery in the media and advertising.
- Genetics: According to studies, genetics play a role in 50% – 80% of the chance of developing an eating disorder. People with siblings or parents with an eating disorder are ten times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Changes in brain chemistry, notably in the brain reward system and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate hunger, mood, and impulse control, may also play a role.
- Peer Pressure: Peer pressure may be a powerful force, especially for children and adolescents. Anorexia can be exacerbated by being teased, bullied, or ridiculed because of one’s appearance or weight.
- Trauma: Many specialists believe that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa are caused by people reducing their food intake to deal with painful emotions and feelings. For example, some may develop an eating disorder due to physical or sexual abuse.
Anorexia Diagnosis & Testing
If your doctor suspects that you have anorexia nervosa, they will likely conduct a series of tests and examinations to narrow down a diagnosis, rule out medical causes for your weight loss, and assess any potential problems.6
The following are examples of the exams and tests used in diagnosing anorexia nervosa:
- Physical Exam: This may include taking your height and weight, checking your vitals, including heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature, looking for issues in your skin and nails, listening to your heart and lungs, and examining your abdomen.
- Lab Tests: A complete blood count (CBC) and more specialized blood tests to examine electrolytes and protein, as well as the function of your liver, kidney, thyroid, and urinalysis, are examples of these lab tests.
- Psychological Evaluation: A doctor or mental health expert will almost certainly question your ideas, feelings, and eating habits. You might be requested to fill out psychological self-assessment questionnaires as well.
- Other Studies: X-rays can assess bone density, check for stress fractures or broken bones, and rule out pneumonia or heart disease. Electrocardiograms can check for heart irregularities.
Anorexia Treatment & Therapy
Anorexia nervosa treatment usually involves a team approach. These levels of care include doctors, mental health specialists, and nutritionists who have dealt with eating disorders before. Consistent therapy and nutrition counseling are critical for long-term healing and recovery. Recovery times vary from patient to patient.
In addition, therapy for anorexia may include outpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), a partial hospitalization program (PHP), a residential program, or hospitalization.
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications, as well. Medicine cannot “cure” anorexia,7 and drugs are most successful when paired with psychological counseling. Antidepressants are the most common drugs used in treating eating disorders. However, a medical professional may prescribe other medications specifically related to the numerous complications that anorexia can create.
What works for one individual might not work for another. Fortunately, a variety of anorexia nervosa treatments exist. It may involve trying a few different therapies until you find what works best for you. Below are specific therapy for anorexia options:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT encourages you to change your actions rather than your emotions or feelings. The behavior connected with mental health conditions stems from responses to unpleasant experiences such as worry or discomfort, according to an ACT principle. With ACT, a therapist will encourage you to explore your core principles for yourself. You are then asked to set goals that will assist you in meeting these ideals. The goal is to accept all feelings, even the ones that are unpleasant, and to commit to adjusting your actions so that they are more in line with your core values.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR treatment is a well-known form of trauma therapy comprised of eight stages. With research validating its efficacy in helping people access and process traumatic memories and other negative life situations, it is thought that EMDR can also be used to treat a person’s negative relationship with food or body image. EMDR seeks to identify a possible origin of onset.8
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT aims to identify the mental processes and beliefs contributing to anorexia. You’ll learn skills to adjust and manage these thoughts and beliefs after identifying them.
- Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT): CRT promotes big-picture thinking and mental flexibility. During CRT, various activities and assignments ease anorexia nervosa’s frequent restrictive cognitive patterns. For example, drawing shapes, making motions with your dominant and non-dominant hands, and traversing a map in various ways are just a few of the exercises.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT deals with unpleasant emotions. It teaches you how to change the behaviors related to your eating disorder.
- Family-based treatment (FBT): FBT is frequently prescribed for children and teenagers who suffer from an eating disorder. According to research, involving family members in anorexia nervosa therapy can increase positive outcomes, especially for adolescents with anorexia. For example, they can assist you in completing tasks such as:
- Preserving healthy eating habits
- Regain and maintain a healthy body weight
- Putting a stop to dangerous habits like binge eating and purging
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): IPT examines your eating disorder in the context of your social and interpersonal connections. Your doctor will work with you to determine how each of the four “problem areas” contributes to your eating disorder:
- Interpersonal deficits – Feelings of isolation or a lack of close, rewarding connections are common examples
- Role disputes – The result of a misalignment of expectations between oneself and one or more significant individuals in your life
- Role transitions – Usually related to significant life transitions, such as moving out on your own for the first time, starting a new job, or entering a new relationship
- Grief – Can include grief due to the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship.
Find Eating Disorder Treatment in Tennessee
Athena Care consists of a multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals, ranging from certified psychologists and anorexia therapists to doctors and psychiatric nurses. With multiple anorexia treatment clinics in Tennessee, you can rest easy knowing that a trained and qualified professional will meet your mental health needs.
Our clinics are open Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Call and speak to one of our highly efficient care coordinators today. Rest assured that all information shared and discussed is kept private.
- “Anorexia Nervosa: What It Is, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9794-anorexia-nervosa. Accessed 6 June 2022.
- National Institute of Mental Health. “Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders. Accessed 6 June 2022.
- Hudson, James I., et al. “The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” Biological Psychiatry, vol. 61, no. 3, 2007, pp. 348–58. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.03.040.
- Harvard School of Public Health. “Report: Economic Costs of Eating Disorders.” STRIPED, The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 27 Sept. 2021, www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders.
- Ulfvebrand, Sara, et al. “Psychiatric Comorbidity in Women and Men with Eating Disorders Results from a Large Clinical Database.” Psychiatry Research, vol. 230, no. 2, 2015, pp. 294–99. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.09.008.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Anorexia Nervosa – Diagnosis and Treatment – Mayo Clinic.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 20 Feb. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353597.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Eating Disorder Treatment: Know Your Options.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 14 July 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eating-disorders/in-depth/eating-disorder-treatment/art-20046234.
- Balbo, M., et al. “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and eating disorders: A systematic review.” American Psychological Association, Giovanni Fioriti Editore, Clinical Neuropsychiatry: Journal of Treatment Evaluation, Vol 14(5), Oct 2017, 321-329, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-51697-004.
If you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from mental health disorders, contact Athena Care today.
One of our friendly associates will help you get the help you need. Take this first step to feel better and take control.