Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening psychological eating disorder that is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Extreme weight loss in people with anorexia nervosa can lead to dangerous health problems and even death.

People who suffer from this disorder have an intense and irrational fear of gaining weight because they see themselves as being fat, even when everyone else doesn't. Anorexics feel that they are heavier than the rest of the people around them and want to do something about it. They feel the need to become thinner and thinner and that the quickest way to lose weight is to not eat at all. Food, calories, and body weight take control of the person's life. Anorexics often become isolated. They stop seeing friends and having fun.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Missing periods.
  • Strange eating habits, like restricting certain foods or drastically reducing how much food you eat.
  • Feeling moody.
  • Denying hunger.
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape.
  • Over exercising.
  • Significant or extreme weight loss.

Cindy's Story

Cindy was 12 when she developed anorexia nervosa. A rather shy, studious girl, she tried hard to please everybody. She was attractive, but just a little bit overweight. She was afraid that she wasn't pretty enough to get the attention of boys in her class. Her father jokingly told her that she would never get a boyfriend if she didn't lose some weight. She took him seriously, though, and began to diet. "I thought that being thin was the most important thing. I thought it was the only way to get people to like me or notice me. I started worrying that if I ever gained weight I'd become ugly."

Soon after the pounds started dropping off, Cindy's periods stopped. She became obsessed with dieting and food, and she developed strange eating habits. She stopped eating all fast food and anything with fat in it. Every day she weighed all the food she would eat on the kitchen scale, cutting solids into tiny pieces and measuring liquids exactly. Cindy knew the calorie and fat counts of everything. She put her daily ration in small containers lining them up in neat rows. She also exercised all the time, sometimes as much as 3 hours a day to burn lots of calories. "I'd inline skate, do exercise tapes, or run eight miles a day." She never took an elevator if she could walk up steps.


Cindy managed to push away her friends and was mostly alone. "Every day I counted calories and fat grams, weighed myself and stood in front of a mirror looking for any fat." Cindy was constantly freezing, even when she wore tights and two pairs of wool socks under her jeans. She didn't have much energy and her grades started slipping. No one was able to convince Cindy that she was in danger.

Finally, her doctor insisted that she be hospitalized for treatment of her illness. While in the hospital, she secretly continued her exercise routine in the bathroom, doing lots of sit-ups and knee bends. It took several hospitalizations and a good deal of family therapy for Cindy to face and solve her problems. Now, Cindy is in therapy and is making headway. Her weight is up and her eating habits are healthier. Cindy's advice to other girls: "If you like yourself, you won't change for others—even to be thin. People who like you only because you're thin aren't worth it."

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services