Eating DisordersPhysical HealthSubstance AbuseHelp and ResourcesEmotional HealthSexual IssuesPressures

by Emily
 Age 16

Our Health Our Futures Logo
Anorexia Nervosa

WHAT is it?: Anorexia is defined as "loss of appetite" though this isn't necessarily true. The Merck manual describes it as "a disorder characterized by a disturbed sense of body image, marked weight loss, morbid fear of obesity, and amenorrhea in women." Another definition calls anorexia the relentless pursuit of thinness and self-starvation leading to a loss of body weight 15% below normal. Losing weight becomes an obsession that stops at nothing. An initial goal could be to lose 10 pounds, but when 10 lbs. isn't enough the anorexic says 5 more, then 10 more, etc.

  Photo of Emily
     Emily, Age 16
  WHO does it affect?: Anyone can suffer from anorexia: male or female, young or old, rich or poor or somewhere in between, black or white or Asian or Hispanic or interracial, ANYONE! This eating disorder no longer just occurs in upper middle class, white, young females. There are certain types of people however, who are more prone to developing Anorexia.  
  First of all, 90% of the 8 million people suffering from Anorexia are female. Also, the anorectic tends to be an over-achiever, a perfectionist who sees things as black or white with no gray. She (or he) sees herself as being fat or skinny, not just normal and healthy. She also may experience a lot of pressures that she doesn't know how to cope with in healthy ways. Other risk factors you can look for are having prolonged dieting behavior, early puberty and onset of menstruation, a history of depression in family, and strong needs for social approval.

WHEN do people usually get Anorexia?: Most anorexics developed the disorder during adolescence though it's not restricted to teenagers by any means! Younger and older girls and women (as well as boys and men) can also be anorexic.

WHAT are symptoms of it?: Symptoms include the following…

  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • The belief that oneself is fat even when she/he is not
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low heart rate
  • Constipation
  • Withdrawal, isolation
  • Obsessive-compulsive thoughts about food
  • Personality changes
  • Amenorrhea (the loss of at least 3 menstrual cycles)
  • Loss of the protective layer of fat causing hypothermia
  • Development of fine, downy hair all over the body to help hold in body heat
As the symptoms get worse and worse, death becomes a more realistic possibility. People have died from complications associated with Anorexia like Karen Carpenter.

  Anorexia, graphic
"Light as a Feather" by Emily, Age 16
  WHY do people get Anorexia?: No one knows for sure. It seems to be a combination of psychological, environmental, and physiological factors. Many times people feel powerless in their world and as a result use food (or a lack of food) as a way of gaining control.


  • 8 million people in the USA have Anorexia
  • Of those 8 million, 90-95% are female
  • 7 million people between the ages 15-35 have Anorexia
  • 10-15% of the people with Anorexia ends up dying
  • 1 in 200 girls aged 12-18 will have Anorexia
And the numbers are growing!

HOW do I know if I have Anorexia?: If you think you or a friend might have Anorexia or another eating disorder, I recommend going to the following pages for a self test. These are in no way as reliable as a doctor's diagnosis, but they can definitely help show you if a potential problem is arising.

HOW can you get help?: You can tell a parent or a friend, go see an experienced or qualified therapist or social worker, call a toll free number (which you'll find on this web page) for more information, or even email a therapist or a nutritionist. Whatever you feel most comfortable doing, please get help! Don't be embarrassed. And remember that Anorexia is a potentially fatal disease. "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it". You can get help!

COMMON MYTH: You can never be too rich or too skinny.

DON'T BELIEVE THIS!!! Anorexia cannot be kept under control alone: it gets worse and worse without help. Anorexia can be fatal if not dealt with.

"Have the courage to be imperfect."
spacer-Meris Spence Recovered Anorexic

"Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got."
spacer-Janis Joplin