People with anorexia nervosa are in a state of starvation, which impairs the brain's ability to think rationally.
Food supplies the energy required for our bodies to function, so the symptoms of anorexia nervosa can take a serious toll.
The most obvious sign that a person has anorexia nervosa is that they are severely underweight, they have lost weight very quickly or their weight fluctuates a lot.
A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered to be underweight. But being skinny is not the only sign of anorexia.
There are psychological and behavioural signs that a person may have anorexia nervosa. In addition, there are a range of physical side effects caused by the disorder.
Psychological signs may include
- a fear of putting on weight.
- a distorted body image (the person 'sees' themselves as fat, when they are underweight).
- a preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
- not admitting to being hungry.
- not wanting to eat.
- low self-esteem and perfectionism.
- depression and anxiety.
Behavioural signs may include
- excessive exercise
- checking weight or body obsessively
- avoiding social events with family and friends
- secrecy around eating
- obsessively avoiding certain foods
- obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating
- deliberate misuse of appetite suppressants, laxatives, enemas or diuretics
- self harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts.
Physical signs may include
- rapid weight loss or frequent changes in weight
- brittle hair and nails
- dry, yellow skin
- growth of soft, fine hair over the body and face ('lanugo' or 'peach fuzz')
- changes to the face, such as sunken eyes and pale skin
- an irregular heartbeat
- becoming easily cold
- impaired thinking, including lack of concentration and poor memory
- fainting or dizziness
- disrupted menstrual cycle or complete loss of menstruation
- decreased libido in men
- osteoporosis and bone problems that can increase the risk of broken bones.
Last reviewed: July 2017