Anorexia Nervosa – Signs & Symptoms

Thinking woman

The word “anorexia” has become popular in the English lexicon, yet, many still don’t know what anorexia symptoms are or what it means exactly. Most often, it is used as a negative reference to individuals living in thin bodies.

I don’t think I’m voicing an unpopular opinion when I say that tossing around an insult related to a disorder with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness isn’t appropriate.

Doing so minimizes the seriousness of this disorder, the suffering of those that struggle with it, and perpetuates misinformation of what anorexia nervosa really is.

Hopefully, this article will help correct this.


Anorexia Nervosa is in the “Eating Disorders” section of the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-5) and is “manifested when a person refuses to eat an adequate amount of food or is unable to maintain the minimal weight for a person’s body mass index [1].”

Individuals struggling with anorexia often have distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight or being “fat.”

The disorder is also characterized by restricting behaviors that often become obsessive preoccupations.

The DSM-5 also specifies that those that meet diagnostic criteria for anorexia must experience “undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight [1].”

Risk Factors

There is not a singular known cause for anorexia. However, research has indicated several risk factors.

Sociocultural factors such as “media exposure, pressures for thinness, thin-ideal internalization, and thinness expectancies [2].” Environment also plays a role, particularly the home-environment and familial messages surrounding body size, weight, and appearance.

Personal factors also play a role, particularly negative emotionality, neuroticism, perfectionism, and negative urgency [2].

Anorexia also commonly co-occurs with other mental health disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or substance use disorders.

Anorexia Symptoms and Signs

Woman looking at her body weight in the mirror not seeing Anorexia SymptomsIf you are worried that your child or loved one might be displaying behaviors similar to anorexia nervosa, look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Dramatic weight loss,
  • Preoccupation with food, calories, fat grams, and dieting,
  • Refusing to eat certain foods,
  • Making statements about body dissatisfaction,
  • Developing food rituals,
  • Consistently making excuses not to eat during mealtimes,
  • Seems concerned about eating in public
  • Limited social spontaneity,
  • Withdraws from social and familial support [3].

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Stomach cramps,
  • Difficulty concentrating,
  • Abnormal metabolic levels,
  • Dizziness/Fainting,
  • Feeling cold all the time,
  • Dry skin and brittle/dry hair and nails
  • Fine hair on the body (lanugo)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellow skin [3].

If any of these behaviors, signs, or symptoms are familiar to you in your own behaviors or a loved one’s behavior, do not be afraid to address them by speaking with your own doctor or broaching the subject supportively with your loved one.


[1] Unknown (2019). Anorexia nervosa. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

[2] Kakhi, S., McCann, J. (2016). Anorexia nervosa: diagnosis, risk factors, and evidence-based treatments. Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry, 20:6.

[3] Unknown (2019). Anorexia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association, retrieved from

About Our Sponsor:

Fairhaven Treatment Center is a leading eating disorder treatment center that provides treatment for adult women and adolescent girls struggling with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED).

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 15, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on November 15, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC