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Signs of Anorexia

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Behavioural Signs

If you're worried that someone is developing anorexia, often changes in behaviour are noticeable before changes to physical appearance. These changes may include:

  • Saying they have eaten earlier or will eat later, or that they have eaten more than they have

  • Not being truthful about how much weight they have lost

  • Strict dieting and avoiding food they think is fattening

  • Rigid rules about 'good' food and 'bad' food

  • Counting the calories in food excessively

  • Eating only low-calorie food, or otherwise limiting the type of food they will eat

  • Missing meals (fasting)

  • Avoiding eating with other people

  • Hiding food

  • Cutting food into tiny pieces to make it less obvious they have eaten little or to make food easier to swallow

  • Eating very slowly

  • Taking appetite suppressants, such as slimming or diet pills

  • Obsessive and/or rigid behaviour, particularly around food

  • Irritability

  • Excessive exercising – this might involve exercising when not physically well enough to do so, or feeling guilty or anxious about not exercising

  • Vomiting or misusing laxatives (purging)

  • Social withdrawal and isolation 

  • Wearing baggy clothing to hide their body, due to self-consciousness or to make weight loss less noticeable

  • Compromise of education and employment plans

Physical Signs
 

Starvation affects all the body’s organs, including the brain and muscle tissue. People with anorexia nervosa often experience physical signs of starvation, which may include:

  • Weight loss

  • Irregular periods, or periods stopping altogether

  • Lack of sexual interest

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Tiredness

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Stomach pains

  • Constipation

  • Bloating 

  • Feeling cold or have a low body temperature 

  • Growth of soft, fine hair all over your body (called lanugo)

  • Hair loss

  • Physical weakness

  • Loss of muscle strength

  • Effects on hormone levels 

  • Swelling in their feet, hands or face (known as oedema)

  • Low blood pressure

  • Poor circulation

Psychological  Signs  
 

Anorexia is a mental illness, and you might notice changes in the way you or someone you know feels before physical symptoms become obvious. Psychological signs include:

  • Fear of fatness or pursuit of thinness

  • Excessive focus on body weight

  • Distorted perception of body shape or weight – for example, thinking they are much larger than they are

  • Underestimating or denying the seriousness of the problem, or believing there isn’t a problem at all, even after diagnosis

  • Spending a lot or most of their time thinking about food

  • Anxiety, particularly about eating in front of other people

  • Low confidence and self-esteem

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Perfectionism and setting very high standards for themselves 

  • Other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Long term effects of anorexia

Like any eating disorder, anorexia can have long-term physical effects, some of which may be irreversible, including:

  • One of the top long term health risks of anorexia has to do with our bones. Nearly 90 percent of women with anorexia experience a condition known as Osteopenia, which translates to a loss of bone calcium. Up to 40 percent of the people that suffer from anorexia may also face Osteoporosis, which means an advanced loss of bone density. 

  • In severe cases, the long term health risks of anorexia may result in suffering nerve damage that affects the brain and other parts of the body. As a result, these nervous system conditions can include: Seizures; Disordered thinking and/or numbness or tingling in the hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Difficulty conceiving, infertility 

  • Heart problems:Typically, heart disease is the major cause of death in people with severe anorexia. A common side effect is a slower heart rate  or bradycardia (below 60 bpm)

  • Damage to other organs, such as the kidneys, bowels and liver

  • Weakened immune system

  • Delayed onset of puberty or stunted growth in children and young teenagers ( boys and girls)

You don't  need to be underweight to have anorexia

Some common signs of anorexia include fear of fatness or pursuit of thinness, preoccupation with body weight and a distorted perception of body shape or weight. 
There are other Behavioural, Psychological and Physical signs. 

Struggling with Binge Eating? Click here to take the BED test and see if you may benefit from specialist support 

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