Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can happen to anyone but mostly affects young women. It can threaten your health, your well-being and even your life. Much about anorexia isn't fully understood. But it can be treated. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. He or she can help.

What is anorexia?

If you have anorexia, you likely have a false image of your body. No matter how thin you are, you may see yourself as fat. And you may try almost anything to lose weight. 

You might eat very small amounts of food. You might even weigh each bite. Or you might not eat at all. To burn more calories, you might exercise too much and too often. 

But without enough fuel, your body begins to starve. Over time, you may lose 15% or more of your total weight. As a result, you may feel cold all the time. Your menstrual periods may stop. And your muscles may begin to waste away. Sadly, some people with anorexia die, often of heart disease.


  • Weight loss of 15% or more of body weight
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Lack of menstrual periods in women
  • Problems with digestion, energy, memory and concentration
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Dental cavities
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation

Who does it affect?

Anorexia can affect anyone, including men. But it's most common in young women. It's also more common in activities that value thinness, such as modeling, ballet, gymnastics and other sports. 

The causes of anorexia aren't known. But they probably include traits you're born with, lessons you learn growing up and the values of society. 

People with anorexia are often concerned with being perfect. Many feel pressured to succeed by parents, coaches, teachers or themselves. Some have a hard time coping with stress. People with anorexia are also more likely to have depression.

Getting treatment

It can be hard to admit you have an eating disorder. In fact, you may not even notice how thin you are. You may keep trying to lose weight. You may also try to hide your problem from others. But in most cases, anorexia won't go away on its own. 

Fortunately, treatment can help. The first step is to confide in someone you trust. You don't have to deal with anorexia alone.

Several of our providers at Psychiatric Associates have specific expertise in the treatment of eating disorders. Use our provider search to find the person you'd be most comfortable seeing. Or call us at 319-356-6352.