Physical Anorexia Symptoms
The most obvious physical symptom of anorexia is of course an extremely low body weight, but anorexia sufferers may experience other physical symptoms as well. For example, people with anorexia may have a slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, and swollen feet and hands. They may also experience constipation problems, thinning hair, dry skin, and brittle nails. They may not experience pain as strongly as they normally did, and they may feel extremely cold.
For women anorexics their menstrual periods may slow or stop completely, and their breasts may shrink in size. Some people with anorexia also find that the skin on their arms and legs turns purple or blue due to poor circulation, and parts of their skin may appear yellow-orange, especially on their palms. They may feel constantly tired, but experience insomnia, and they may find themselves having dizzy spells or even fainting unexpectedly. Studies have also revealed that people who have had anorexia, even those who are no longer anorexic, may have an altered sense of taste (i.e., they taste things differently than other people do).
Emotional Anorexia Symptoms
People with anorexia show symptoms not only physically, but emotionally as well. Emotional anorexia symptoms may include a strong fear of weight gain, an obsession with exercise, a secretive attitude towards food, and a distorted body image. Even if a person with anorexia is extremely thin, he or she may view themselves as being overweight, and without treatment no amount of convincing can change this self image. Anorexia can also leave a person feeling emotionless or irritable, and possibly depressed. People with anorexia may withdraw socially, losing their interest in friends, family, and intimacy.
Red Flags to Look Out For
If you suspect that someone you know has anorexia, look out for the following signs:
- Do they keep on skipping meals, or insisting on eating them in private?
- Do they have food rituals that must be completed each time they eat, such as cutting food into tiny pieces before eating, or chewing food but then spitting it out? (Other examples may include hoarding food or rearranging the food on the plate over and over again.)
- Do they cook huge and elaborate meals for others, but refuse to eat them?
- Do they weigh themselves excessively, look into the mirror obsessively, and constantly talk about how fat they feel?
- Do they insist on eating only a few types of foods, specifically those that are extremely low in calories and fat? (Examples might include celery or lettuce.)
Recognizing these anorexia symptoms can help you to identify anorexia in your loved ones and encourage them to get help early on. People with anorexia who get help early in the process often recover more successfully than those who only get help later on.