Anorexia (anorexia nervosa) – symptoms, causes and treatment

Anorexia (anorexia nervosa) is an eating disorder in which you try to starve to lose weight, often even though you already weigh less than what is useful. The disease mainly affects girls between the ages of 12 and 20, but even boys can get anorexia.

For those suffering from anorexia, large parts of the thoughts and plans revolve around weight loss and exercise. Self-esteem is very dependent on these plans. Many times it starts with a diet regimen and then escalates. Often the plans and goals are adjusted when you have achieved them, and you now want to become even narrower or exercise even more.

Anorexia is usually marked outward to a greater extent than other eating disorders, as the environment is often marked by weight loss. Those affected are often socially isolated because they do not participate in meals and follow their own strict dietary rules.

Symptoms and signs of anorexia

Some of the most common signs of anorexia nervosa are:

  • Self-weight loss
  • Great fear of obesity and gaining weight
  • Thoughts that revolve around food and calorie intake
  • Rules on diet and exercise
  • Compulsive need for exercise
  • That you see yourself as thick no matter what others say

Often, outsiders (relatives or caregivers) can find early signs of anorexia before the behavior grows and becomes a major part of the lifestyle. This can be about, for example, wanting to eat “useful”, skipping meals, increased exercise and excluding certain foods from the diet.

Anorexia, bulimia and orthorexia

Some people who have anorexia also develop bulimia, hot flashes where they then try to get rid of the food, through eg vomiting or laxatives. In eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, it is also common to exercise excessively.

Compulsive overtraining is called orthorexia in the people’s mouth and the media. Orthorexia is not a formally recognized eating disorder or psychiatric diagnosis. Instead, those who suffer from compulsive exercise tend to get diagnoses such as anorexia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or some type of anxiety disorder. Anorexia is also more common in elite athletes.


It is difficult to point out any exact reasons why anorexia develops. Anorexia is likely to be caused by both psychological and biological factors. No physical causes have been identified yet.

Today’s cultural beauty ideal is also believed to be a factor. However, the number of anorexia sufferers has been constant for the last 25-30 years. Anorexia can also occur after triggering factors such as puberty or death in the family.

Several of these causes are likely to interact. What is clear is that those with compulsive, “stubborn” personality traits are over-represented.

Consequences of anorexia

Those suffering from anorexia can have physical symptoms such as constipation, stomach pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and easy to freeze. Anorexia can also lead to endocrine disorders and delayed menstruation. You can get burns on your teeth as a result of vomiting.

Anorexia can lead to disorders of hunger and satiety. These emotions are controlled by the signaling system in the brain. The obsessions and obsessions that go on during anorexia make it impossible to listen to the body’s signals.

When you have an eating disorder such as anorexia for a long time, the body often settles on starvation. The weight loss means that the body can no longer handle its biological functions. After a prolonged period of starvation, the body starts turning off functions to save as much energy as possible.

The body’s metabolism drops. This can affect longitudinal growth and lead to decreased bone density (osteopenia) or osteoporosis (osteoporosis) if you are still growing. When you suffer from an eating disorder you also tend to avoid many foods, which can lead to the development of deficiency diseases such as iron deficiency or vitamin D deficiency.

Treatment of anorexia

To treat anorexia, you often need help with both the physical and mental side of the disease. Psychotherapy, individually or in groups, is one of the most common measures. The therapy usually lasts for at least six months. The therapy focuses on changing the attitude to eating. It is also used to deal with other difficult feelings that may be linked to anorexia.

In some cases, antidepressants are also used to relieve any depression. In case of heavy weight loss you may need to be hospitalized.

Relapse in post-treatment anorexia is a risk factor, especially during periods of stress. There is also a risk of developing other eating disorders, such as bulimia. For this reason, specialist care has follow-up of anorexia patients. There are also several support groups for those suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders.

When should you seek help?

If you think you have anorexia problems, you can seek treatment at a health care center. If you are under 18, you can also contact a youth clinic (up to 20-25 years), student health or BUP (child and adolescent psychiatry). There are also eating disorder receptions in some county councils. Most of these can be contacted directly while some require referral.

It is important that you who suffer from anorexia or other eating disorders contact your health care as early as possible. The earlier you get help, the better opportunities you have for treating the disease.

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