Eating Disorders Home > Anorexia Nervosa

People with the eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa can literally starve themselves to death. While women tend to develop this disorder more than men, anyone can develop it. Common symptoms include excessive weight loss and the belief that one is fat, even when dangerously thin. Treatment often includes therapy and nutritional counseling. More severe cases may require hospitalization.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder in which people can literally starve themselves to death. People with anorexia nervosa eat very little even though they are already thin. They have an intense and overpowering fear of body fat and weight gain, with repeated dieting attempts and excessive weight loss.
People with anorexia nervosa are often characterized as overachievers and perfectionists who appear to be in control. In reality, they suffer from low self-esteem and overly criticize themselves. They are also very concerned about pleasing others.
Anorexia nervosa affects from 0.5 to 1 percent of the female adolescent population, with an average age of onset between 14 and 18 years. An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of females suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime.

What Are the Symptoms?

Anorexia nervosa is identified, in part, by refusal to eat, an intense desire to be thin, repeated dieting attempts, and excessive weight loss.
To maintain an abnormally low weight, people with anorexia nervosa may diet, fast, or over-exercise. They often engage in behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. People with anorexia nervosa believe that they are overweight even when they are extremely thin.
Anorexia nervosa will often develop after a stressful life event, such as the beginning of puberty or moving out of the parents' home.
(Click Anorexia Symptoms for more information.)
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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