Anorexia Nervosa

Written by Raina Zaman. Reviewed by Emily Fultz, MS, RD, LDN

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder that surrounds a person having a distorted image of their body, which causes them to indulge in unhealthy diets that lead to extreme weight loss. Although AN is more commonly associated with food restriction, some individuals may also try to control their calorie intake by self induced vomiting, laxative use, and diet pills. 

Individuals with anorexia nervosa often have a weight that is significantly lower than what’s expected of their age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. On the other hand, some people with anorexia nervosa may not appear underweight or unhealthy, but they are in fact malnourished. 

Possible Causes of Anorexia Nervosa:

*there is no one cause of anorexia nervosa*

Biology: Individuals can inherit a vulnerability to anorexia nervosa if someone in their family had it.

Sociocultural: Seeing unrealistic body images may cause individuals to feel insecure and lead to unhealthy habits and thoughts. In the media being thin is considered being beautiful, and in many cultures being thin is the beauty standard.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Individuals with OCD are inclined to obsessions and compulsions, so they might follow a strict diet and exercise regimen consistently. 

Characteristics of an Individual With Anorexia Nervosa:


  • fatigue, dry skin, bone loss, anemia, cardiac complications, being emaciated, binge eating and then purging, not consuming enough calories 

Behavioral + Psychological:

  • refuses to eat, doesn’t eat certain foods or food groups, compulsive exercise, withdrawal from social activities, anxiety, depression

Possible Topics Individuals With Anorexia Nervosa Mention:

  • Rules about what they can or can’t eat
  • Talks about being scared of gaining weight
  • Mentions wanting to eat healthy foods constantly
  • Being occupied with food labels 

Effects of Anorexia Nervosa:

Short Term:

  • hair loss, brittle hair and nails, carotenemia, dry or gray skin, bloating, constipation, extreme fatigue

Long Term:

  • damage to the gastrointestinal tract, ulcers, cardiac muscle atrophy, heart failure, loss of brain function 

Registered Dietitian’s Role For Recovery:  

The treatment plan for the patient typically involves a multidisciplinary team, consisting of a physician, registered dietitian, psychologist/therapist, and a psychiatrist. 

  • Restore weight to what it was previously
  • Talk about eating habits and form new and sustainable healthier ones
  • Create realistic meal plans with the patient; this is an interactive process
  • Focus on nutrient needs rather than restriction 

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