By Stephanie Elliot

This is part two of a five-part series exploring eating disorders.

Part 1: What is an eating disorder?

Part 2: What is anorexia nervosa?

Part 3: What is bulimia?

Part 4: What is binge eating?

Part 5: What is ARFID?

The dictionary defines anorexia nervosa as: a lack or loss of appetite for food (as a medical condition); an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat.

To anyone who has suffered with anorexia nervosa or has a loved one with this eating disorder, it is so much more than the above definition. People with anorexia have an intense fear of eating, afraid that putting anything into their mouths will make them gain weight. Adding to the fear is a distorted body images. What they see in the mirror is not accurate. A person with anorexia may look extremely thin or even emaciated to others, but to the afflicted, she does not see the real image of herself in the mirror.

However, it should be noted that a person with anorexia does not always have to appear physically underweight in order to have the disorder. Some people with anorexia may exercise compulsively to keep their weight down; others may binge-eat and then purge or use laxatives which can be extremely dangerous and harmful to the body.

While anorexia usually becomes present in adolescence, and is more prevalent in girls, boys can suffer from the disorder as well, and older people can become anorexic too. As with any eating disorder, anorexia nervosa does not discriminate – age, sex, race, socioeconomic status – anyone can become anorexic.

Warning signs of the disorder are vast and all-encompassing. Anorexics do not desire to eat, they may dress in clothes that hide their thinning bodies, they may over-exercise or remove themselves from the table after a meal to purge. People with anorexia may complain of being fat, they may have food-related rituals (measuring/counting calories and fat intake, not eating certain things, eating things in a pattern, being specific about what they can and cannot eat). They may fear eating in public and avoid social situations that involve food.

Physical characteristics include extreme/obvious weight loss, lethargy, insomnia, stomach issues including constipation, dizziness/fainting. Menstrual cycles may disappear, nails and hair can become thin and brittle, teeth may turn yellow from induced vomiting, skin can turn sallow and pale. A person with anorexia may feel constantly cold and have trouble concentrating.

If you are concerned that you (or someone you love) may be suffering from anorexia nervosa, please do not be afraid to seek out help. There are many health professionals that know how to successfully treat anorexia. You can also contact NEDA, National Eating Disorder Association, for support or more information. Their helpline (800-931-2237) is open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.