Physical and Psychological Effects of Anorexia

Anorexia, the shorthand name for anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder that affects millions of people around the world. Even though anorexia is on the rise across America, most people remain unaware of the specific effects of anorexia. If you’re one of these people, keep reading for a breakdown of the key physical and psychological effects of anorexia nervosa.

Physical Effects of Anorexia Nervosa

In the pursuit of losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa often utilize a wide range of unhealthy calorie restriction techniques, including consistent undereating, post-meal purging, fasting, and over-exercising. Because they employ such severe food deprivation techniques, people with anorexia nervosa have a high risk of dangerous weight loss and serious malnourishment.

Some of the immediate physical effects of caloric and nutrient deprivation are listed below:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Shivering and chills
  • Dry and yellowing skin
  • Hair loss
  • Disrupted menstrual cycles

Over longer periods of time, people with anorexia nervosa can suffer more serious complications, including:

Osteoporosis: When a person severely restricts their food intake, their skeletal system — deprived of the nutrients needed to sustain regular bone growth or density — will become weaker and more brittle. Young people with anorexia are especially vulnerable to developing early-onset osteoporosis.

Neurological problems: People in prolonged anorexic states may experience changes in their brain activity, potentially leading to nerve damage and nerve-affected conditions. Neurological problems due to anorexia nervosa can even trigger other physical effects, such as seizures, cognitive confusion, and mood disorders.

Heart problems: Long-term anorexia nervosa not only reduces the amount of body fat protecting the heart, but it also reduces the amount of cardiac muscle within the heart itself. If anorexia nervosa damages the heart, it can lead to heart arrhythmia, hypotension, bradycardia, and congestive heart failure.

Anemia: Although blood problems are relatively common among people with anorexia nervosa sustained anemia, often caused by low iron or low vitamin B12, can seriously reduce the body’s production of red blood cells. In extreme anorexic states, anemia can even lead to the development of pancytopenia, a life-threatening bone marrow condition.

Psychological Effects of Anorexia Nervosa

Unfortunately, the effects of anorexia nervosa are not confined to purely physical problems. The foremost psychological effects of anorexia nervosa are:

  • Obsessive and distorted views about ideal body shape.
  • An intense and irrational fear of gaining any kind of weight.

In addition to inculcating dangerously restrictive eating habits, anorexia nervosa also contributes to the development or worsening of many other negative psychological effects, including low self-esteem, depression, self-harm, emotional withdrawal, and anxiety.

Sources: McCallum Place Eating Disorder Center, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Schoen Clinic, Mirror Mirror

Photo: Pixabay

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