Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Anorexia Nervosa Health Center

Font Size

Understanding Anorexia -- the Basics

What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa, anorexia for short, is an eating disorder that can have fatal consequences. People suffering from anorexia consume very restrictive quantities of food, which leads to starvation. Eventually they can become dangerously thin and malnourished -- yet still perceive themselves as overweight. Frequently, people with anorexia become so undernourished that they have to be hospitalized. Even then they deny that anything is wrong with them.

Anorexia usually develops during puberty. Nine out of 10 people with anorexia are female and one in every 100 U.S. women is anorexic. A person can be considered anorexic when she restricts her food intake to such an extent it leads to significantly low body weight accompanied by an intense fear of gaining weight and an excessive concern with body weight or shape.

Understanding Anorexia

Find out more about anorexia:



Diagnosis and Treatment

There are two subtypes of anorexia: One type is linked to a different type of eating disorder called bulimia, which is characterized by ''bingeing and purging;'' a person eats and then deliberately vomits. The other subtype manifests itself through severe restriction of food and calories.

A person with anorexia becomes obsessed about food and weight. She or he may develop peculiar eating rituals, such as refusing to eat in front of other people or arranging food on the plate in a certain order. Many people with anorexia seem to care a lot about food. They may collect cookbooks and prepare sumptuous meals for their friends and families -- but they don't join in. Often, they also maintain an intensive exercise regimen.

What Causes Anorexia?

The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown. However, the condition sometimes runs in families; young women with a parent or sibling with an eating disorder are likelier to develop one themselves.

Then there are psychological, environmental, and social factors that may contribute to the development of anorexia. People with anorexia come to believe that their lives would be better if only they were thinner. These people tend to be perfectionists and overachievers. In fact, the typical anorexic person is a good student involved in school and community activities. Many experts think that anorexia is part of an unconscious attempt to come to terms with unresolved conflicts or painful childhood experiences. While sexual abuse has been shown to be a factor in the development of bulimia, it is not associated with the development of anorexia.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 28, 2015

Today on WebMD

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms
two hands together
family in hand
Doctor holding tablet PC talking to patient
Anorexia Nervosa What Happens
Woman at desk looking distracted
watching late noght tv
Distressed young woman with dna background

WebMD Special Sections