How Does Anorexia Nervosa Start?

How Does Anorexia Nervosa Start

How do eating disorders get get their grip on women? (image by Lucia Whittaker, via flickr)

Learning how anorexia nervosa starts is one step towards effective treating this eating disorder. This information about how anorexia starts includes insight into how a person with anorexia thinks.

“Currently, we don’t have very effective means of treating people with anorexia,” said Walter Kaye, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of California, San Diego. “Consequently, many patients with the disorder remain ill for years or eventually die from the disease, which has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder.”

Once the cause of anorexia is known, psychologists and psychiatrists are better able to treat it.

In a review paper published online in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Kaye and colleagues describe how dysfunctions in certain neural circuits of the brain may help explain how anorexia starts.

How Anorexia Nervosa Starts

According to Kaye, childhood personality and temperament may increase a person’s vulnerability to developing anorexia. Perfectionism, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive tendencies may come before an eating disorder (but these traits don’t cause anorexia in all cases).

“Adolescence is a time of transition, when individuals must learn to balance immediate and long-term needs and goals in order to achieve independence,” says Kaye. “For such individuals, learning to cope with mixed societal messages and pressures may be overwhelming, exacerbating underlying traits of anxiety and a desire to perfectly achieve.”

Once anorexia starts and develops, starvation and malnutrition cause profound effects on the brain and other body systems. These changes include neurochemical imbalances, which may make the preexisting traits more dominant. This creates a downward spiral into severe anorexia or other eating disorders, and can even accelerate the disease process.

“Anorexia is very complicated, and there needs to be a paradigm shift in understanding its underlying cause,” said Kaye. “We’re just beginning to understand how the brain is working in people with this disorder.”

Who has anorexia in your family? If it’s your mother, read When Your Mom Has an Eating Disorder.

How People With Anorexia Think

Sign up for my free weekly "She Blossoms" newsletter

One Blossom Tip a week. Short and sweet. You'll love it.

* indicates required

“Individuals with anorexia nervosa tend to report that dieting reduces anxiety, while eating increases it,” says Kaye. “This is very different from most individuals, who experience hunger as unpleasant.” This drive to reduce anxiety can lead to an out-of-control spiral resulting in weight loss, severe emaciation, and malnutrition in people with anorexia nervosa.

Also, people with anorexia nervosa tend to not live “in the moment” or experience pleasure. People with anorexia often have exaggerated and obsessive worry about the consequences of their behaviors, looking for rules when there are none, and are overly concerned about making mistakes.

Symptoms of anorexia include distorted body image and diminished motivation to change, and could be related to their thought patterns. Once the cause of an eating disorder is identified, treatments may be more effective and permanent. And Kaye offers good news! In his experience, many individuals who recover from anorexia do well in life.

Related Reading: Signs of Eating Disorders in Teens – From Perfectionism to Purging.

Laurie's "She Blossoms" Books

growing forward book laurie pawlik she blossoms
Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back offers hope, encouragement, and strength for women walking through loss. My Blossom Tips are fresh and practical - they stem from my own experiences with a schizophrenic mother, foster homes, a devastating family estrangement, and infertility.

letting go book laurie pawlik she blossoms

How to Let Go of Someone You Love: Powerful Secrets (and Practical Tips!) for Healing Your Heart is filled with comforting and healthy breakup advice. The Blossom Tips will help you loosen unhealthy attachments to the past, seal your heart with peace, and move forward with joy.

miss him book laurie pawlik she blossoms
When You Miss Him Like Crazy: 25 Lessons to Move You From Broken to Blossoming After a Breakup will help you refocus your life, re-create yourself, and start living fully again! Your spirit will rise and you'll blossom into who you were created to be.

Source: University of California at San Diego (July 21, 2009). “ Review Provides New Insights Into the Causes of Anorexia.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *