What is anorexia?

Anorexia: A technical definition

According to the DSM-V, there are three criteria that must be met for someone to have anorexia nervosa (the official name):

  1. Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
  2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight.
  3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
  1. Consuming less than the amount of energy your body needs, causing your weight to be “significantly low” (we’ll talk about what this means later).
  2. Having the intense fear of weight gain/being fat.
  3. Hyper-focusing on weight and/or denying the gravity of your current low weight situation.

Warning signs

Now that you know the definition of anorexia, let’s talk about some red flags:

  • Preoccupation with calories, weighing self, and/or dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or food groups (i.e. no carbohydrates, no dairy, no fat, etc)
  • Denial of feeling hungry
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Comments about feeling “fat” or “overweight”
  • Avoidance of mealtimes and social gatherings involving food
  • Withdrawal and isolation, increased secrecy
  • Inflexible thinking
  • Need for control
  • Rigid exercise regimen maintained even when sick or injured

Physical complications

Anorexia can bring with it serious physical symptoms due to the malnutrition going on. The list is extensive, but here are a few:

  • Loss of menstrual period in females, which can lead to osteoporosis (bone disease)
  • Slowed digestion and stomach cramps, constipation, and/or diarrhea
  • Dizziness, fainting
  • Cold intolerance, poor circulation in hands and feet
  • Loss of hair
  • Impaired immune function
  • Severe electrolyte imbalances
  • Depletion of body’s stored sugar (can be fatal)
  • Slow resting heart rate (the body trying to conserve energy) which can eventually lead to cardiac arrest

Common misconceptions

So we’ve covered the definition of anorexia, some warning signs, and some physical complications. Now I’d like to do some myth debunking around this illness.

How anorexia helps people

Wait, what? Wasn’t I just saying how terrible anorexia is? How could it actually be helpful to someone?



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Abbie Joy Womack

Abbie Joy Womack


Ice cream lover. Dog mom. Registered dietitian. Downtown HTX city dweller.