Anorexia Symptoms And Causes You Need To Know

As a parent, all you want at the end of the day is for your child to be happy. However, many teens end up developing debilitating disorders. Eating disorders are common among teens today, so you may want to educate yourself on anorexia symptoms to prepare yourself if you're a parent of a teen.

If your child is anorexic, this is a problem that they can overcome. But it's important to recognize it as the serious problem that it is. Anorexia can wreak havoc on a person's life, hurting them both physically and mentally.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so it would be best for you to be familiar with anorexia symptoms before there's ever a problem. If you suspect that there may already be a problem, don't lose hope. Just educate yourself now, so that you can combat it in the most effective way possible.

​Anorexia ​Symptoms: What is Anorexia?

Most people already know what anorexia is, but here's a little refresher. Anorexia, also known as anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder that involves abnormally low body weight, a distorted perception of weight and body type, and an intense fear of gaining weight.

People who are anorexic generally have body weights of 85 percent or less of their healthy and expected weights.

Anorexic individuals employ extreme efforts to control their weight and shape. They severely restrict the amounts of food that they eat. They may not eat at all or eat very little; alternatively, they might purge by misusing laxatives, diuretics, diet aids, et cetera.

Most of the time, anorexia isn't about food, although the anorexia symptoms might make it seem this way. This illness is generally more of a way that people cope with emotional issues.

People who are anorexic often equate weight loss with a higher self-worth.

Risk factors

Anorexia is more common in girls and women than in boys and men. However, it is not unheard of in boys and men either. The rates of male anorexia patients are actually increasing, likely because of changing social climates.

Teenagers are more susceptible to anorexia than adults, although it is possible for people to develop anorexia symptoms at any age. Teens might be more vulnerable to this particular disorder because of a combination of peer pressure, all of the changes they are going through, and a higher level of sensitivity than the average adult.

There are other risk factors as well. Some think that genetic mutations may be involved. People who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with anorexia have an increased risk of developing the disorder.

Dieting and starvation also introduce a risk factor. Many anorexia symptoms are actually symptoms of starvation as well. Because of the way deprivation affects the brain, mood, and thinking patterns, restrictive eating behaviors might actually be perpetuated.

Transitions present another risk factor. If your teen has just moved to a new home, transferred to a new school, or broken up with a significant other, they might be dealing with a great deal of emotional stress. Any of these events can increase the risk of anorexia symptoms.


Diagnostic criteria

In order to be considered anorexic, a person must meet the following diagnostic criteria.

The individual must be restricting his or her food intake to a level much less than what is required. This leads to excessively low body weight, considering age, gender, physical health, and stage of development.

Even though the individual is underweight, they have an extreme fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight.

Also, the individual is disturbed by his or her body weight or shape. Weight plays too much of a role in the individual's sense of self. These individuals also tend to be in denial of how severe their condition is.

However, even if someone doesn't meet all of these criteria, you can't rule out a serious eating disorder. It's always best to consult a doctor if you suspect anorexia symptoms in your child or teen, rather than trying to diagnose the problem yourself.

8 Behavioral Anorexia Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore in Your Child

When someone is exhibiting anorexia symptoms, it's usually fairly obvious. There are many notable changes in behavior. If you think your child may be struggling with anorexia, you should definitely be looking out for the following anorexia symptoms.


1. "Stripes are not my friend"

Belly with a tape measure

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People who are anorexic typically have excessive concerns about weight and body image. They see themselves as overweight even when they're not. In fact, they're usually noticeably underweight.

Anorexia often goes hand-in-hand with a distorted body image. People become very self-conscious about how they look and how other people will perceive them. The problem is that the way they view themselves is generally far more negatively than the way other people are actually seeing them.


2. Reading and never eating

One of many common anorexia symptoms is, ironically, an obsession with food. Sometimes, people who are dealing with anorexia will become obsessed with food. They'll always be looking at cookbooks and preparing food for others.

However, you'll likely notice that as much food as they're preparing, they're eating very little of it. They're simply preoccupied with food, and part of that preoccupation involves putting as little of it into their mouths as possible.


3. The dog seems to be gaining weight, though

Woman feeding the dog

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People who are dealing with anorexia also want to hide how much they're restricting their diets. They might start engaging in secret rituals involving food. Even though they feel like they need to limit themselves, they don't want everyone else to be aware of it.

They might end up cutting their food in a very meticulous way so that it'll look like there's less of it on the plate at the end of the meal. Some people will chew on food and then spit it out so that they can experience the taste without ingesting calories. They may also do things like feed all the food to the dog when no one else is looking.

4. "I don't deserve anything"

Self-denial is one of the most apparent anorexia symptoms. After all, anorexic people deny themselves food. However, it goes quite a bit deeper than that.

People who are dealing with anorexia tend to be perfectionists. They are dealing with deceptive brain messages that make them feel that they have failed in some way. A lot of the time, they don't feel like they deserve to be happy or enjoy life; they think that they should punish themselves instead.

5. "Who even cares anymore?"

Black and white photo of a woman

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Anorexia often co-occurs with apathy and depression. Of course, this symptom isn't exclusive to anorexia, as many teens and adults deal with apathy and depression, even when anorexia is not an issue at all.

However, if you observe other anorexia symptoms and see that your teen may be depressed as well, it could all be connected.


6. "She was always such a good student, though"

Memory loss often goes hand-in-hand with other anorexia symptoms. This isn't too surprising, considering that the severe restriction of food intake will severely limit a person's energy.

When someone is tired and lethargic, they're less likely to be at peak performance mentally. Your child may be studying just as hard as ever, but having a harder time actually retaining information, for example.


7. "Every little thing is getting on my nerves"

Irritability is also common in people who are suffering from anorexia. Since they're not eating properly and are likely not feeling the best they can physically, it's fairly likely that they're not going to be in the best mood.

Anorexia also often co-occurs with anxiety, which can exacerbate irritability.


8. "Just 10 more minutes on the bike!"

Not surprisingly, over-exercising is also one of the more common anorexia symptoms. These people sometimes feel that severely restricting food intake is not enough. Because they feel like they're so overweight, they want to accelerate the weight loss process via excessive exercise as well.

It's not just exercise, though. People can engage in other obsessive-compulsive behaviors. They may be doing this to deal with their heightened state of anxiety.

​Anorexia ​Symptoms: Physical Anorexia Symptoms

There are also physical anorexia symptoms that you may notice. Some of them are quite obvious, while others may not be as obvious as the behavioral anorexia symptoms. These physical symptoms include the following:

  • Very thin appearance and extreme weight loss or lack of weight gain consistent with development
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Blood abnormalities
  • Dizziness, and fainting in extreme cases
  • Hair that is breaking or falling out
  • Soft and downy hair (lanugo hair) all over the body
  • Bluish, discolored fingers
  • Skin that is dry or yellowish
  • Interruptions in menstruation for females
  • Abdominal pain and constipation
  • Abnormal heart rhythms, low blood pressure
  • Inability to tolerate cold temperatures
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Dehydration

​Anorexia ​Symptoms: How You Can Help

If your child is dealing with anorexia symptoms, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and seek help. You want to be a big part of his or her support system in order to help your child heal.

Things you can do

This may seem simplistic, but the biggest and best thing that you can do is just be there for your teen. Don't try to micromanage the situation, as this is very unlikely to work. Be there in a non-judgmental way and as much as you can, be a safe person for your teen to talk to about his or her feelings.

However, you need to keep in mind that you can't do it on your own. As loving and supportive as you are, your child also needs professional help in order to truly be on the road to recovery.


Professional treatments

There are many negative thought patterns that a person with anorexia needs to combat. A therapist can help restructure thought and behavior patterns so that the individual can free himself or herself from the hold of this disease.

Basically, this individual needs to figure out a new, more constructive way to achieve emotional fulfillment. Believe it or not, anorexia symptoms are the brain's way of seeking some sort of control and positive emotion. It is ultimately self-destructive, so the person needs to rewire his or her brain to seek that positive emotion elsewhere.

It's also essential to use mindfulness when the individual combats damaging mindsets. All-or-nothing thinking is one example, such as believing that if you eat a sandwich, you've failed for the entire day. When it comes to anorexia, a big part of recovery will also involve developing a healthier relationship with food.

Many different therapeutic approaches work when it comes to anorexia symptoms. It's crucial that you find a therapist who works well with your child.

​Anorexia ​Symptoms: No More Crying Over Spilled Food...

If your teen has been exhibiting anorexia symptoms, there are many things you can do to help. First of all, you can make sure to be aware of all the common anorexia symptoms. You can also make sure that you are completely loving and supportive of your child at this time because that is really what they need.

Of course, you won't be able to do it on your own. You'll need the help of a professional as well. But your role is likely the most important of all because you're your child's caregiver.

As long as you respond to your child's anorexia symptoms with love rather than judgment and are willing to seek the necessary help, your child has a high chance of regaining a healthy life.

What do you have to say about everything we've just told you about anorexia symptoms? Talk to us in the comments below.

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