If you or anyone you know suffers from an eating disorder, then you know the mental, emotional, and physical scars that accompany it. While anorexia might seem like a physical disease, it all begins in the mind and slowly breaks down the body. Anorexia is not a choice, a lifestyle, or a trend. It is a serious, potentially life-threatening illness that requires treatment of some form.

Sadly, a review of nearly fifty years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Furthermore, this mortality rate is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death for females between the ages of fifteen to twenty-four years old. 

While research is ongoing regarding the causes of anorexia, researchers believe it occurs from a combination of genetics, stressful life events, personality traits such as low self-esteem and perfectionism, extreme dieting that can cause changes to the brain’s chemistry, and societal and personal pressure to stay thin.

Anorexia is not something to be taken lightly. If you or anyone you know suffers from anorexia, please seek professional help. Your life matters, and you don’t have to allow an illness to rule your life any longer.

The following list is not exhaustive, but these are the main signs you need to look out for in yourself and others who might be suffering from anorexia.

8 Warning Signs of Anorexia to Never Ignore

1. Weight loss

This is probably the most obvious sign of anorexia. While it is a mental illness, anorexia is most easily characterized and recognized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation. In the mind of someone who suffers from anorexia, they are overweight and the only way to lose excess weight is to starve themselves. They see no other option as a viable one and restrict calories to sometimes nothing in order to have a sense of control.

If you notice extreme weight loss in yourself or someone you know, seek professional help immediately. Do not wait, because every second matters when it comes to someone suffering from anorexia.

2. Excessive exercise

People who suffer from anorexia almost always have an exercise routine, but it easily becomes an obsession. They feel that they must work out for hours on end at times in order to burn all the calories they’ve consumed throughout the day, and then some. It’s a constant battle between food, exercise, and body image, and for people suffering from anorexia, they see no end in sight. Every day is a struggle and a game of numbers.

3. Very poor body image

Another key sign of anorexia that we briefly mentioned above is a distorted body image. People with anorexia look in the mirror and see an overweight person, when in reality, the person staring back at them is barely alive. However, even when everyone else sees a thin person standing before them, an anorexic person will see the opposite.

They never feel good enough in their own skin, no matter how thin they become, and put great pressure on themselves to keep excess weight off.

4. Obsession with counting calories

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with counting calories if you do it with a healthy mindset. However, it becomes a problem when your whole life becomes a number’s game. When you can’t consume any food or drink without logging it in a calorie counting app and comparing it with how many calories you’ve burned so far. When you find yourself fearing food and mealtimes instead of looking forward to them.

People suffering from anorexia cannot consume anything without logging the calories somewhere, because in their mind, calories are the only thing they can truly control and restrict.

5. Frequent chest pains

Chest pains associated with anorexia are fairly common. According to a cross-sectional survey of 54 patients, 87% of people who suffer from anorexia experience chest pains. These can be caused by a number of factors, including, but not limited to, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, GERD, anxiety, an abnormal heart beat, or other complications with the cardiac, gastrointestinal, or pulmonary systems. The root cause of chest pain is often due to low potassium levels, as potassium helps the heart beat at a normal rhythm and keep electrolytes balanced.

If you experience regular chest pain, please get it checked with a professional immediately.

6. Digestive issues

When you starve the body of nutrients for a prolonged period of time, digestive issues can happen quite easily. IBS, GERD, bloating, constipation, and other major digestive problems are common in people with anorexia.

7. Hair loss

Another major sign of anorexia is significant hair loss. Every part of the body requires nutrients, including the hair, so hair loss ensues when the body doesn’t get the nutrition it needs. Protein stores become depleted in a state of malnutrition, and the body uses this protein for the most essential functions only. Since hair isn’t essential to our body’s functioning, it’s one of the first things to go when the body is in a malnourished state.

Related article: 5 Reasons to Stop Bodyshaming

8. Isolation/withdrawal

This might not be a direct sign of anorexia, but it’s certainly a red flag. People with eating disorders often don’t like to eat socially, as they want to avoid any questions from others about their eating habits. Not to mention, those with anorexia also tend to suffer from some other mental disorder such as anxiety and depression, which are characterized by isolation and withdrawal. People with anorexia might hide away due to lack of energy as well. More often than not, however, the main reason for isolation is to avoid eating in front of others, as everything dealing with food is stressful and fear-inducing for those suffering from anorexia.

We cannot stress enough that if you or someone you know is suffering from anorexia or any other eating disorder, you should get professional help immediately. Anorexia CAN be treated, but the first step is to admit to needing help. If you need immediate assistance, please call the National Eating Disorders Association(NEDA) hotline at this number: 1-800-931-2237.