What Is Anorexia Nervosa (AN)?

What is Anorexia Nervosa? When does this happen in your life? What does it feel like? What are some causes? When does it show up? How does it affect us? What are the results of this? Lets YAC about it!

You Are Collective Infographic for Mental Illness and Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
Defined by the Mayo Clinic:

Anorexia (an-o-REK-see-uh) Nervosa — often simply called anorexia — is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. People with anorexia Nervosa place a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with their lives.

So.. What Does This Mean?

Essentially what it means is a stark opposition to what you've been told by society. Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a mental illness. One that, if left untreated can lead to death. One that makes you adhere to certain behaviours like preparing food for other people, but never eating or cutting your food into tiny pieces, but never eating. Many people who have been diagnosed will also live with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies. However, AN is also a mental illness that creates a very distorted perception of body image- meaning environmental factors like society's current perception of body image are very influential in developing any eating disorders. Now, what's key to learn here is that anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa are two very different things. As you just learned, one is a mental illness, while anorexia is more of a symptom or side effect. Anorexia is a loss of appetite or inability to eat. Please keep this in mind as you react to anorexia as a stereotype and try to advocate for more mental health and illness!

What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?

This is another mental illness that, as far as we know, hosts a trio of possibilities. There is a biological element to it, wherein the way your genes are made up and your family history have created a likelihood of also developing an eating disorder. Environmental impacts like we talked about earlier - the way you're taught or shown how to perceive yourself. As well, certain experiences, transitions, or traumas can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. Becoming obsessed or rigid with dieting coupled with psychological factors such as signs of or living with other mental illnesses like OCD can make you susceptible to AN. This is because the obsessiveness of OCD can make you fixated on perfectionism and make it easier to stick to starvation and other eating disorder behaviours. 

Two Types Of Anorexia Nervosa:
  • Binge/Purge – The person living with this type of eating disorder will often purge after eating. This is a type of Anorexia Nervosa, it does not mean they have Bulimia Nervosa. The purging takes away the fear of gaining weight and guilt from eating possibly indulgent or off-limits foods. The individual may purge in a variety of ways from exercising excessively to vomiting to abusing laxatives.
  • Restrictive – Usually someone diagnosed with this type of AN is viewed as highly self-disciplined. They restrict the quantity of food, calories and often high fat or high sugar foods. They consume far fewer calories than are needed to maintain a healthy weight. This a form of self-starvation.
What Are The Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?
  • significantly low body weight
  • afraid of gaining weight
  • refusal to stay at a healthy weight
  • distorted body image - thinking they're overweight
  • denying the seriousness of the low body weight
  • self-esteem placed heavily on having a significantly low body weight
  • obsessed about food, weight, dieting
  • constant exercise even when sick
  • vomiting after eating or using laxatives excessively
  • chronic, restrictive eating
  • engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, and/or hiding food
  • continued fixation with food, recipes, or cooking; the individual may cook intricate meals for others but refrain from partaking
  • amenorrhea: an abnormal absence of menstruation, or loss of 3 consecutive menstrual cycles
  • depression, low energy, isolating
  • developing lanugo: soft, fine hair that grows on face and body
  • feeling cold
  • losing or thinning hair
How Is Anorexia Nervosa Treated?

It truly depends on how far along you are in the mental illness. It could be that a combination of psychotherapy or talk therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), family therapy and different support groups as part of a well-balanced approach to food, healthy eating and exercise could be what it takes to gain back confidence, realistic body standards, and a healthy body weight. This could be done with dieticians, nutritionists, and other balanced living professionals. However, because of the many negative effects living with an eating disorder has, the treatment may require hospitalization or medical care of some sort to be monitoring vitals and ensuring proper care. There is no medication to treat Anorexia Nervosa, but some people may be prescribed things like anti-depressants if they also live with depression or other mental illnesses.

Let's YAC About It!
It's time to break down the barriers and end the stigma surrounding mental health. If you live with mental illness or just want to chat, our comments and inboxes are always open. We strongly believe in the value of sharing our experiences + stories in hopes even one person knows they're not alone. If you would like to share your experience with Anorexia Nervosa please contact us at info@youarecollective.ca! This blog is an introduction to a two-part series, the second part will introduce all sorts of resources and ways to find the help you need. Thank you again for everyone who got to this point- and again, don't be afraid to YAC about it!


1. Anorexia nervosa - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. (2019). Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved 4 December 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353597
2. Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Articles For Treatment. (2019). Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved 4 December 2019, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/inform

3. Anorexia - Kelty Eating Disorders. (2019). Kelty Eating Disorders. Retrieved 4 December 2019, from https://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/types-of-disorders/anorexia/
4. Anorexia Nervosa. (2019). HealthLink BC. Retrieved 4 December 2019, from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw46497

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