Last modified on August 5, 2018, at 05:40

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a destructive cycle of self-starvation associated with "underlying issues of control, perfectionism, and self-perception."[1][2]

It generally involves severe crash dieting and fasting, often motivated by a belief that one is "too fat" despite being well below average weight.

Individuals who do this typically have a body image distortion and an intense fear of becoming overweight and therefore eat far too little to sustain normal body functions. They usually have an extremely unhealthy body image. If they do not get treatment, their behavior can lead to serious physiology injury or death.

Some people think anorexia is stimulated by the wide publicity given to fashion industry values.

  • Magazines, television, and other media have created an unrealistic image of the perfect, successful person. The pressure to be thin can lead to intense dieting, even in very young children ...[3]
  • Anorexia is more than just a problem with food. It is a way of using food or starving oneself to feel more in control of life and to ease tension, anger, and anxiety. Most people with anorexia are female.[4]
  • People with anorexia are obsessed with being thin. They lose a lot of weight and are terrified of gaining weight. They believe they are fat even though they are very thin. Anorexia isn't just a problem with food or weight. It's an attempt to use food and weight to deal with emotional problems.[5]
  • Anorexia is often preceded by a traumatic event and is usually accompanied by other emotional problems.[6]

Criteria for anorexia nervosa

Fewer than 1 in 100 meet the clinical criteria of anorexia nervous as described by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released in 2013. The criteria includes both objective and psychological characteristics that indicate the disorder.[7]

  • Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements, leading to significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. Significantly low weight is defined as weight that is less than minimally normal or, for children and adolescents, less than what is minimally expected.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though a person is at a significantly lower weight.
  • Disturbances in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experiences, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight.[8]

Epidemiology of Anorexia

About 90% to 95% of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are female. Research indicates that its incidence is between 0.3% to 1.3%, depending on severity.[9]

The disorder most commonly occurs in adolescence.[10]

Factors Credited As Contributory

The media perception of larger-than-average bodies as 'too fat', or something that must be changed via dieting, can contribute to many having an unhealthy body image. Also, some have cited society's pressure on women to be thin and desirable, and on men to be large and muscular, as something that can enhance eating disorders.

Research has not ruled out the possibility that biological factors contribute to the occurrence of anorexia. Anorexia appears to be linked to dysfunction in brain serotonin symptoms.[11]



  1. Anorexia Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
  2. *Seligman, Martin E. P., et al. Abnormal Psychology. Norton & Company, 1984.
  3. Cultural and social factors in eating disorders - WebMD
  4. [1]
  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness
  6. Anorexia nervosa - University of Maryland Medical Center
  7. Grison, Sarah, and Michael S. Gazzaniga. Psychology in Your Life. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.
  8. American Psychiatric Association (2013).
  9. [2]
  10. Lask B & Bryant-Waugh R (2000). Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence. Hove: Psychology Press.
  11. Kaye WH, Frank GK, Bailer UF, Henry SE, Meltzer CC, et al. (2005). Serotonin alterations in anorexia and bulimia nervosa: New insights from imaging studies. Physiology & Behavior, 85, 73-81.