Red flags to watch for
It may be hard to notice signs and symptoms of anorexia because people with anorexia often disguise their thinness, eating habits or physical problems.
If you’re concerned that a loved one may have anorexia, watch for these possible red flags:
- Skipping meals
- Making excuses for not eating
- Eating only a few certain “safe” foods, usually those low in fat and calories
- Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as spitting food out after chewing
- Cooking elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat
- Repeated weighing or measuring of themselves
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
- Complaining about being fat
- Not wanting to eat in public
- Calluses on the knuckles and eroded teeth if inducing vomiting
- Covering up in layers of clothing
The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown. As with many diseases, it’s probably a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
- Biological. Although it’s not yet clear which genes are involved, there may be genetic changes that make some people more vulnerable to developing anorexia. Some people may have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism, sensitivity and perseverance — all traits associated with anorexia.
- Psychological. Some emotional characteristics may contribute to anorexia. Young women may have obsessive-compulsive personality traits that make it easier to stick to strict diets and forgo food despite being hungry. They may have an extreme drive for perfectionism, causing them to think they’re never thin enough. They may have high levels of anxiety and restrict their eating to reduce it.
- Environmental. Modern Western culture emphasizes thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin. Peer pressure may help fuel the desire to be thin, particularly among young girls.