Anorexia: What it is (and what it isn’t)

What is Anorexia Nervosa?


Anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder characterized by severe restriction of food intake, leading to extreme weight loss. The afflicted also have distorted body image and an intense fear of becoming fat. Note that the diagnostic criteria for anorexia have changed recently. Formally, one had to fall below 85% of their ideal body weight, whereas now there is no percentage attached to the diagnosis. Currently, an anorexia diagnosis requires one to be at a significantly low body weight in respect to their age, sex, developmental stage, etc. Furthermore, amenorrhea (absence of 3 or more menstrual periods) used to be required for diagnosis. This criterion has been removed, allowing for males, pre-pubescent females, females taking birth control, etc. to be diagnosed with anorexia.

Warning Signs of Anorexia

  • refusal to eat
  • denial of hunger, even when starving
  • difficulty concentrating
  • obsession with body size and shape
  • skipping meals
  • making excuses for not eating
  • eating only a few certain foods considered safe, usually those low in fat and calories
  • adopting meal or eating rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or spitting food out after chewing
  • weighing food
  • cooking elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat
  • excessive exercise
  • flat mood, or lack of emotion
  • repeated weighing of themselves
  • frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
  • wearing baggy or layered clothing
  • complaining about being fat

(Source: Timberline Knolls Treatment Facility)

What Anorexia IS NOT

  • False: Anorexia is solely determined weight.

Not all individuals with anorexia are skin and bones. The media tends to portray a certain image of anorexia, which shows only individuals who are severely underweight. However, many (if not most) individuals with anorexia are at a weight that is unhealthy for THEM. It may not always be obvious.

  • False: Anorexia is a choice

Anorexia is a serious life-threatening mental illness. It is not a phase. It is not done for attention. The behaviors associated with anorexia are driven by distortions in the mind, and is often caused by a multitude of factors (biological, environmental, social, etc.).

  • False: Anorexia means one simply does not eat

Individuals with anorexia restrict their food intake, but this looks different for everyone. It is characterized by rigid rules about when and what one is “allowed” to eat, but that does not mean they never eat.

  • False: Individuals with anorexia, do not like food and are never hungry

People with anorexia aren’t supernatural; they have the same needs as anyone else. They pretend to not be hungry or not like food as a means to justify their restriction. These individuals are often plagued with obsessive thoughts of food, they just do not allowed themselves to eat it.


Eating disorders do not discriminate.  Any age, sex, ethnicity, class, or culture can have an eating disorder.  The movies stereotype of a white, middle class, vain, and/or college student is far from the truth.

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Recovery is possible. #purplelove


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