Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa: Is There A Difference?

Although they are often used interchangeably, the terms “anorexia” and “anorexia nervosa” actually refer to two distinct eating disorder conditions. To help dispel this misconception, this article will outline the key symptom and treatment differences for anorexia and anorexia nervosa.

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder that is characterized by a broad loss of appetite. Even though people with anorexia have no interest in food, this does not necessarily mean that all people with anorexia want to reach a critically low body weight. The reason for this is simple: a lack of interest in food is not equivalent to a desire to lose weight.

Even though anorexia is classified as its own eating disorder, it can also function as a symptom of a wide range of other medical conditions, including depression, cancer, and insomnia.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

As an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa includes both physical and psychological components. Despite retaining their appetite, people with anorexia nervosa regularly experience personal feelings of repulsion towards food and develop obsessive ideas about weight loss and/or body image. In most cases, these unhealthy psychological relationships with food will translate to similarly unhealthy physical conditions, including malnourishment and dangerously low body weight.

To achieve low body weight, people with anorexia nervosa may employ the following tactics:

  • Purging food via self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives
  • Long-term fasting
  • Pretending to eat food and secretly disposing of it
  • Extreme over exercising

What are the Differences Between Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa?

Unlike people with anorexia nervosa, people with anorexia do not retain their appetite. The loss of interest in food and the absence of an appetite experienced by people with anorexia may be caused by the following factors:

  • An uncomfortable sensory response to food
  • A reaction to medication
  • Psychological or neurological effects of depression
  • Other mental or physical illnesses

In comparison, people with anorexia nervosa are intentionally choosing to limit their caloric intake based on skewed psychological views regarding weight loss and body image. Although rapid weight loss is common among people with anorexia, people with anorexia nervosa are much more likely to push themselves to an extremely low and extremely dangerous weight.

Treatment for Anorexia vs. Anorexia Nervosa

Unsurprisingly, treatment pathways for people with anorexia or anorexia nervosa will depend on the severity of their condition and strength of their support network. As a general rule of thumb, the cause of anorexia can usually be identified and treated by a regular doctor. However, when it comes to treating anorexia nervosa, experts recommend getting in touch with a specialist and putting together a personalized psychological care program.

Sources: Medical News Today, Psycom, They Differ, The Butterfly Foundation

Photo: Pexels

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