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Anorexia Medical Definition: Warning Signs

Anorexia medical definition describes a deadly eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. Even if all the DSM-5 criteria for anorexia medical definition are not met, a severe eating disorder can still be present. Atypical anorexia includes those individuals who meet the criteria for anorexia but who are not underweight despite significant weight loss. Individuals with anorexia nervosa place a high value on controlling their weight and body shape and will engage in extreme efforts that tend to interfere with many aspects of their lives significantly. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, individuals with anorexia nervosa will severely restrict the amount of food they eat or control their caloric intake by vomiting after meals or by misusing laxatives, diet aids, diuretics or enemas. They may also try to lose weight by exercising excessively. No matter how much weight is lost, the individual continues to fear weight gain. Individuals will also go to extreme lengths to hide their unhealthy eating disorder and weight loss, and therefore family members, friends, and even professionals are often misguided until the disorder spirals out of control. The following are physical, psychological and behavioral warning signs that are commonly seen in individuals with anorexia nervosa:

  • Rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes
  • Loss or disturbance of menstruation in girls and women and decreased libido in men
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Feeling tired and not sleeping well
  • Lethargy and low energy
  • Signs of damage due to vomiting including swelling around the cheeks or jaw, calluses on knuckles, damage to teeth and bad breath
  • Feeling cold most of the time, even in warm weather
  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape, and weight
  • Feeling anxious and or irritable around meal times
  • Feeling ‘out of control’ around food
  • ‘Black and white’ thinking (rigid thoughts about food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’)
  • A distorted body image
  • Using food as a source of comfort (eating as a way to deal with boredom, stress or depression)
  • Using food as self-punishment (refusing to eat due to depression, stress or other emotional reasons)
  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape, and weight
  • Feeling anxious and or irritable around meal times
  • Feeling ‘out of control’ around food
  • ‘Black and white’ thinking (rigid thoughts about food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’)
  • A distorted body image
  • Using food as a source of comfort (eating as a way to deal with boredom, stress or depression)
  • Using food as self-punishment (refusing to eat due to depression, stress or other emotional reasons)
  • Dieting behavior (fasting, counting calories/kilojoules, avoiding food groups such as fats and carbohydrates)
  • Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people
  • Evidence of binge eating (disappearance and/or hoarding of food)
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
  • Vomiting or using laxatives, enemas, appetite suppressants or diuretics
  • Changes in clothing style (wearing baggy clothes)
  • Compulsive or excessive exercising (exercising in bad weather, continuing to exercise when sick or injured, and experiencing distress if exercise is not possible)
  • Changes in food preferences (claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, sudden preoccupation with ‘healthy eating’, or replacing meals with fluids)
  • Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at exactly the same time every day)
  • Extreme sensitivity to comments about body shape, weight, eating and exercise habits
  • Secretive behavior around food (saying they have eaten when they haven’t, hiding uneaten food in their rooms)

These warning signs will most likely not all occur together, and the quantity and intensity may range over time, making it sometimes difficult to tell if your loved one does have a problem.

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