Merck Manual

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Recognizing Anorexia Nervosa

Recognizing Anorexia Nervosa

People who have anorexia nervosa usually deny they have a problem and try to conceal their unusual eating habits rather than seek help. Many people who have anorexia nervosa are meticulous, compulsive, and intelligent and have very high standards for achievement and success. These personal characteristics often help them conceal the disorder. Thus, family members and friends may be unaware of the disorder until it has become severe.

Because anorexia nervosa has serious, sometimes life-threatening complications, family members and friends of someone who often diets or is excessively concerned about weight need to know how to recognize the disorder.

People with anorexia nervosa often do the following:

  • Complain about being fat although they are very thin

  • Deny being thin

  • Think about food all the time

  • Measure their food

  • Hoard, conceal, or throw away food

  • Prepare elaborate meals for others

  • Skip meals

  • Pretend to eat or lie about how much they have eaten

  • Exercise compulsively

  • Dress in bulky clothing or many layers

  • Weigh themselves several times a day

  • Base their self-esteem on how thin they are