Anorexia Nervosa: The Deadliest Psychiatric Disorder

If you think that schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder are the mental health issues contributing to the highest number of casualties – you are wrong. The highest mortality rate among psychiatric disorders belongs to eating disorders. 


Research published in Current Psychiatry Reports shows that eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the most lethal psychiatric conditions. 

Wondering how severe the situation is?

As per the Eating Disorders Coalition, every 62 minutes, a life is lost as a direct result of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa occupies the highest share of deaths among all eating disorders. In fact, as per the findings by the Archives of General Psychiatry, every one in five individuals who die from anorexia takes their own life.

Even with such grim statistics, people with anorexia struggle to find acceptance of their condition and proper medical support. Understanding anorexia nervosa can be a step forward in spreading awareness and information about the condition. This awareness can go a long way in helping people with anorexia find timely and required help.

On that note, let us dive deeper into anorexia nervosa, its symptoms, and available treatment options. 

Anorexia Nervosa

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder defined by difficulty in maintaining proper body weight, significant weight loss, and an intense fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia are obsessively trying to limit weight gain by limiting their diets, exercising, or both. 

Additionally, anorexia does not just mean people restrict their food intake and become underweight. It also means these individuals develop a deeply entrenched fear of gaining weight. Their distress becomes so internalized that the thought of eating makes them anxious and frightened. As a result, they strictly and persistently ensure that their weight remains in check. Therefore their behaviors and thoughts have a compulsive element to them. They constantly feel as if they have to do what their ‘anorexia’ side of thoughts are telling them.

Additionally, people with anorexia start evaluating their shape and body type as the central aspect of their lives. It takes greater importance than all other aspects like eating and socializing. People with anorexia are also not able to identify or recognize the health issues attached to dangerously low body weight.

Read more: Debunking Myths – National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2023

Symptoms Of Anorexia

Like most psychiatric disorders, the exact cause of anorexia is unknown. However, researchers point toward genetic, environmental, and biological factors are potent reasons. 

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa are divided into three categories, namely – behavioral, physical, and psychological.

Behavioral Symptoms

The behavioral symptoms of anorexia include the following:

  • talking about food and weight in all conversations,
  • refusing to eat in social situations,
  • making themselves throw up intentionally,
  • eating very little or not eating at all,
  • taking diet pills or laxatives, and
  • exercising intensely. 

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of anorexia include the following:

  • thin hair or brittle nails,
  • feeling cold at all times,
  • feeling dizzy or weak,
  • feeling tired or restless throughout the day,
  • irregular menstrual cycles in females,
  • dry and yellowish skin,
  • severe constipation, and 
  • weak joints and muscles.

Emotional Symptoms

The emotional symptoms of anorexia include the following:

  • being anxious and stressed constantly,
  • feeling depressed,
  • having suicidal tendencies, and 
  • having frequent mood fluctuations.

Treatment Options

Anorexia is a tough condition to treat. Relapses are highly frequent, and there is no officially approved drug to treat the condition. However, a multifaceted treatment program, including psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medications, is the right way forward.

1. Psychotherapy

The main aim of psychotherapy for anorexia aims to transform the thinking process of affected individuals to help them develop a healthy relationship with food. The following forms of psychotherapy are used to treat anorexia:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy,
  • dialectic-behavioral therapy,
  • acceptance and commitment therapy,
  • family-based therapy, etc.

Read more: Best Online Therapy Platforms

2. Nutritional Counselling

Nutritional counseling is also one of the frontline treatment options for anorexia. It aims at providing nutritional care and support to affected individuals. A dietician helps the individual gain the optimum amount of nutrients and reach a healthy body weight. 

3. Medication

While there is no officially approved drug for anorexia, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are used to alleviate the emotional symptoms and aid the overall treatment process.


Anorexia nervosa is the world’s deadliest psychiatric disorder. It is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight. As a result, individuals affected by it obsessively limit their diets in order to lose weight. The treatment options for anorexia involve the conjugation of psychotherapy, medications, and nutritional counseling.

Apart from anorexia, there are other types of eating disorders affecting people. To learn more about them, click here.

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