Five Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa You Need to Pay Attention To

Parents and loved ones who are close to an individual are often those who know the person best. However, these same people are also the ones who are most likely to not notice the subtle symptoms of anorexia nervosa. The presence of these subtle symptoms could indicate that anorexia nervosa treatment is necessary. Sometimes, individuals who have an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa do a good job of explaining away signs that a loved one questions them about. In other cases, a young person may deliberately hide the evidence that they have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa for so long that it surprises family members, friends and other people close to the person when they learn the truth.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Do a web search for the phrase “symptoms of anorexia nervosa” and there will be plenty of results that highlight what is a key sign of the condition: pictures of a significantly thin and frail-looking person. While that is a very visible symptom that is part of an anorexia nervosa diagnosis, it is far from being the only one. In fact, increasing the knowledge base of the loved ones who are closest to an individual who may have an eating disorder can help provide them with the support and resources they need for anorexia nervosa treatment.

  1. Fatigue

The fatigue that teens and young adults face is understandable. There are several reasons why this might be a factor. For one thing, the sports that young people in this age group play often increase in both competitiveness and the stamina needed to keep up. This is often elevated due to another factor that often comes into play: college.

During the teen years — which is when many people who have an eating disorder first show signs — many young people feel the pressure to boost their activities with an eye toward getting into the college of their dreams. This might include ensuring they play on the school’s applicable sports teams, volunteering more or adding more extracurricular activities to their calendar.

Often, this push to add more activities is coupled with a teen’s natural need for more sleep. During this time period, a teen girl or boy’s body often needs additional sleep due to developmental and hormonal changes. In spite of this need, research has determined most teens don’t get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. This can lead to feelings of fatigue.

For the reasons indicated above, it can be easy for loved ones, family members and other people who are close to teens and young adults to gloss over the fact that they are more fatigued than normal. A teen might point out the fact that they are busier than ever and that their body needs more sleep that they don’t always get. It is important to consider this fatigue may be either traced back to their eating disorder or made worse by eating disorder complications. In individuals with eating disorders, fatigue may be caused by a lack of proper nutrition that provides the body with the fuel it needs to function smoothly.

  1. Insomnia

It can often seem like a cruel twist of fate that the very time when a teen or young adult needs more sleep due to the increase in their bodily demands or because of an uptick in their activity level there is also an increase in insomnia. In fact, for many people in this age group, this is the first time they have had to grapple with being unable to sleep in spite of needing and wanting to do so.

This is another symptom of anorexia nervosa that can be easily explained away by a teen or young adult who is questioned by friends, family members or others who are close to them. For one thing, it is very understandable to most people that a teen or young adult has a great deal of pressure on them to perform at a certain level — either academically, in sports or other extracurricular activities.

  1. Thin Appearance

The hallmark symptom of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is often a thin appearance. Even this classic sign, though, is not as clear cut as one might assume from the movies and other depictions seen in the media. For one thing, many teens and young adults who have anorexia nervosa could be classified as simply being thin rather than being extremely or alarmingly thin.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that a thin appearance is most often associated with an anorexia nervosa diagnosis rather than the presence of bulimia nervosa or another eating disorder. This is not to say, however, that this is always true. Extreme thinness can be associated with bulimia nervosa though people with the condition are more likely to be within the normal weight ranges for their height and age.

Another component of a thin appearance is that it is often fairly easy for a teen or young person to hide its presence. Again, it is developmentally normal for a teen to suddenly be more conscious of their body and to balk at undressing in front of others or even to be partially clothed around them. The person in question might confess a sudden liking to sweatpants, baggy sweatshirts and other clothing that is too big for them. They may also explain they no longer like to go to the beach or relax by the pool during vacations, or they may cite a fear of sunburn for the reason behind being fully clothed during such occasions.

  1. Dry Skin and/or Hair

Due to a lack of the vitamins and minerals required by the body to maintain good health, a teen or young adult who has an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa might start complaining about their hair and skin being dry. The hair might break more easily or fall out in greater quantities than previously experienced.

In some cases, the teen or young adult might not complain about the presence of this newfound sign, but family members might notice a difference. If this is true, the person could explain away the presence of this symptom due to a change in the body products that are used.

  1. Abdominal Pain and Constipation 

Constipation is a common occurrence in the United States that can often be traced back to a lack of adequate fiber in the diet of many Americans. This is often due to the fact that many people consume highly processed foods that often lack a substantial amount of the fiber necessary to keep the body regular. Bouts of constipation are often coupled with the presence of abdominal pain as the body tries to move waste out and is unable to do so efficiently.

This is one symptom of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa that is not likely to raise very many red flags, even for the teen or young adult who has the eating disorder. This is because constipation and abdominal pain is so common in the United States it could almost be considered a normal sign of being an American. This sign is also one that could be an indication of numerous other medical conditions.

In spite of its common appearance, the presence of constipation and/or abdominal pain, along with other worrisome indicators of an eating disorder, should be closely observed. Their combined presence warrants closer observation or could even indicate the need for anorexia nervosa treatment.

In other instances, a teen or young adult could point to the necessity of a special diet or one that is more restrictive as a requirement of a sport they are playing or an extracurricular activity they are engaged in. For example, a gymnast or wrestler may need to maintain a certain weight limit in order to meet the parameters established for the sport. A participant in track and field may need to focus on a diet that provides enough fuel and stamina for the body without added bulk that could add precious seconds to their final event time. Despite these sometimes regular needs, parents and loved ones should still be aware these strict guidelines could precipitate or exacerbate eating disordered behaviors and symptoms.

It Could Be One Symptom or All

Regardless of what a teen or young adult tells those people who are close to them, the combination of multiple signs on this list deserves further investigation. If nothing else, a consultation with the teen or young adult’s primary care physician could rule out the presence of an eating disorder.

Like so many other medical conditions, it is not the presence of a single symptom of anorexia nervosa that should be necessarily concerning. It is instead a concern when there are two or more such signs that would make anorexia nervosa treatment something that should be considered. Family members, friends and other individuals who are close to a teen or young adult who consistently displays even one of the above signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa should be on high alert for the presence of others as well.

At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, the compassionate, experienced and trained clinical staff can help guide the concerned people in a teen or young adult’s life. In many cases, this person knows something is not quite right, but they are also confused by the explanations given to them. By undergoing a professional evaluation, the talented and compassionate staff can provide an objective anorexia nervosa diagnosis, if warranted, as well as the option of residential or outpatient treatment.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers provides a concentrated focus on both psychiatric and medical care and pride ourselves on treating the whole person in a manner that facilities long term recovery. Contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers for more information today.