Anorexia NervosaWhat is anorexia?
One of the most commonly known eating disorders, anorexia nervosa—or simply “anorexia”—is characterized by extreme food restriction and an intense fear of gaining weight. While low body weight is still considered when diagnosing anorexia, increased awareness about “atypical anorexia” is challenging this criteria. A person with atypical anorexia meets all or most of the requirements for anorexia but is not underweight. Anorexia is not a choice or a vanity issue. Like all eating disorders, anorexia has complex neurological, biological, and psychological underpinnings, which is why we refer to it as a brain disorder. While environmental and social factors play a role in eating disorder development, they are never the singular cause (nor is anything else). Rather, eating disorders emerge out of a “perfect storm” of factors.

Anorexia signs and symptoms

  • Restriction of food intake and types of food eaten
  • Avoidance of eating with other people
  • Lying about foods eaten and general secrecy around food
  • Exercising compulsively and without joy
  • Preoccupation with food, body size, and weight
  • Social withdrawal
  • Extreme weight loss (or not growing as expected for children and adolescents)
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Always being cold
  • Loss of menses
  • Growth of soft, downy hair on the face and body
  • Low blood pressure
  • Constipation, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal issues
Common questions about anorexia

As with all eating disorder treatment at Equip, the initial focus of anorexia treatment is normalizing eating habits, stopping eating disorder behaviors, and weight restoration if necessary.

We focus on these behavioral and nutritional aspects first and foremost, because it's difficult for patients to make progress in other areas when they're malnourished or actively engaging in eating disorder behaviors. When the body is malnourished, the brain is, too. A malnourished brain doesn’t think clearly or take in new information well. People who are malnourished are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and have trouble paying attention.

Once patients have been able to normalize their eating habits and make progress toward restoring their weight (if necessary), the focus of treatment can shift to other areas. That might mean working on interpersonal relationships, setting goals outside of their eating disorder, learning to handle triggers in their daily life, or understanding potential root causes of the eating disorder.

To accomplish all this, our clinicians use a variety of different evidence-based treatment modalities, including CBT-E (a form of cognitive behavioral therapy designed specifically for eating disorders), DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), and ERP (exposure and response prevention). For younger patients who live with their family, we generally use FBT (family-based treatment).

Male anorexia is far more common than most people think, with men and boys accounting for about 25% of all patients with anorexia. Men and boys with anorexia often go undiagnosed for a long time (at least in part because of societal misconceptions around who gets anorexia), and so they often enter treatment in a more serious condition than their female counterparts. You can learn more about male anorexia on our blog.

Anorexia and bulimia share some similarities, but tend to present quite differently. Both are types of eating disorders that involve a preoccupation with body size and weight and a fear of gaining weight. However, while patients with anorexia restrict their food intake, those with bulimia engage in binge-purge cycles: eating large quantities of food and then purging the food through vomiting, laxatives, compulsive exercise, or other unhealthy means. You can learn more about anorexia and bulimia on our blog.

Atypical anorexia is an increasingly common yet underdiagnosed type of anorexia, in which a person has all or most of the symptoms of anorexia except for being at a low body weight. People with atypical anorexia may be in medium or large bodies. Atypical anorexia is a very serious condition, carries all the same health risks as “regular” anorexia, and should be treated as anorexia.

At Equip, we don’t condone or use the term “atypical anorexia”—it is simply anorexia. Any manifestation of anorexia, regardless of weight, is serious and life-threatening and needs the same treatment.

As frustrating as it is, there is rarely one identifiable cause of an eating disorder, and anorexia is no different. More often than not, it is a constellation of biological, psychological, and environmental factors: in other words, someone has a genetic predisposition to developing an eating disorder, and then the eating disorder is “turned on” by environmental factors such a diet, over-exercise, social stress, or even a stomach bug. But the good news is that we don't need to know the exact cause of your child's eating disorder to treat it effectively. You can learn more about the causes of eating disorders on our blog.

Anorexia statistics and facts to know

  • Anorexia is the deadliest of all eating disorders. Eating disorders as a whole are the second most deadly mental illness, behind opiate addiction.
  • Suicide is a particularly common cause of death for anorexia. At least one third of deaths in those with anorexia are due to cardiac arrest or other cardiac causes.
  • Young people ages 15-24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to peers their age.
  • Some adolescents may fit some of the criteria for anorexia but not enough for an official diagnosis. Called “subthreshold anorexia,” this condition is still dangerous and should be treated.
  • 25-40% of people seeking inpatient treatment for eating disorders have atypical anorexia, meaning they’re not underweight.
  • Anorexia in females age 15-24 has increased over the last 50 years.
  • Over one-third of female Division 1 NCAA athletes reported attitudes and symptoms that put them at risk for anorexia.
Anorexia is a serious and deadly condition—but it’s treatable, and lasting recovery is possible. If you think your loved one might be struggling with anorexia, it’s vital to find treatment promptly.
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After the first 8 weeks of treatment, Equip patients are well on their way to recovery
Average weekly weight gain for those who need it
8 in 10
Patients report a decrease in eating disorder behaviors
Of patients report improvements with depression or anxiety
My daughter's eating disorder seemed insurmountable, but Equip truly saved her. The coordinated support was incredible and it is so easy to schedule sessions. I wholeheartedly recommend Equip.
Dad of a 16-year-old with anorexia
I was pervasively hopeless about recovering prior to finding Equip and now I feel so optimistic about my journey for the first time ever.
45-year-old with bulimia
Equip was there for us day and night. Any time we needed help they held our hands and walked us through the darkness; all we had to do was trust their professional expertise.
Sister of a 19-year-old with anorexia
Equip was the best thing that ever happened to me. Interacting with a team that truly cared about me was transformational. Last year, I felt broken. Today, I feel whole.
33-year-old with BED
This has been the missing link on our journey. The convenience of scheduling; virtual options; complete team of providers; it is saving my daughter's life.
Mother of a 13-year-old with ARFID
I love the team approach that touches every aspect. Their positive approach has inspired my son to want to improve and take a lot of the initiative to do so himself.
Mother of a 18-year-old with OSFED
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