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Home Health How to detect anorexia nervosa

How to detect anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating behaviour disorder (ED), a severe mental illness that affects different sectors of the population and is influenced by genetic, psychological, biological and sociocultural factors.  

Although it generally has a higher incidence in women, since it is 90 per cent more common in women, men are not exempt from suffering from this type of disorder. However, adolescents are more likely to experience this condition, although there is currently a decline in the age of diagnoses.

Early detection is critical to full recovery. “Recovery is complete in 65 per cent of patients, but there are cases of a long evolution, and there is a greater probability of suffering episodes of anxiety and depression in the future, as well as resorting to altered nutrition in the face of certain personal crises. 


The Institute of Eating Disorders groups the factors into three groups:

  • Predisposing factors to the disorder are those related to the person’s vulnerability: low self-esteem, the influence of the canons imposed by society and the media, difficulties in the family environment and personality (obsessive, compulsive, self-demanding, controlling and hypersensitive), among others.
  • Triggering or precipitating factors, such as stressful situations: comments and teasing about physical appearance, sentimental breakups (partner, family or friends), feeling of loss of youth, perception of affective lack, feeling of failure in the face of a particular event etc

Maintenance factors that occur when the disorder has already appeared: diet, greater obsession with food, lack of control over eating, decreased cognitive abilities and denial.

 Warning symptoms

 aspects in one’s own body.

The a notable increase in physical activity, even when muscle mass is lost.

Difficulty coping with problematic situations.

Difficulty expressing emotions.

The appearance of episodes of anxiety, fears and obsessions.


Malnutrition generates multiple problems at an organic level, such as dizziness, hair loss (alopecia), mood swings (sadness, irritability, aggressiveness), dry skin, constipation, amenorrhea, lanugo and acrocyanosis. Vomiting, for its part, causes loss of enamel and teeth and severe heart problems.

The Association in Defense of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Care (Adaner) indicates: “Don’t look for the cause. Look for the solution.”

And bulimia: how to identAnorexia of them in the family environment?

Anorexia and bulimia are diseases characterised by the obsessive fear of gaining weight and distorted physical perception, with a higher prevalence among adolescents. According to the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (Semfyc), people with anorexia eat little and selectively, exercise and use diuretics to lose weight. At the same time, bulimia leads to largely hidden food binges that, after a feeling of guilt, lead to the induction of vomiting, the intake of laxatives or excessive physical activity.

And how do we detect these destructive eating behaviours at home? “It is complicated because some signs such as changes in character may simply be due to the crisis itself that is suffered during adolescence,” explains Joaquín Juan José, a member of Semfyc, on the occasion of the Self-Care Week celebrated by Primary Care doctors and that dedicate a space to the prevention of both pathologies. In his opinion, this specialist warns to pay special attention to sudden changes in eating: the preference for certain foods and the suppression of others. 

In addition, to detect these problems, it is convenient to observe if the minor has the following behaviours:

  • He is very nervous when it comes to eating.
  •  Divide the food or always leave it on the plate.
  •  Excessively controls the calories of each product.
  •  Avoid eating with family or in public places.
  •  Keep food in your room or your bag.
  •  Go to the bathroom immediately after eating.
  •  You exercise a lot to lose weight.
  •  Change your mood by being more sad and irritated.
  •  Develops an excessive interest in fashion and physical appearance.
  •  He distances himself from family and friends.
If the problem is detected: how to act?

From Semfyc, they recommend talking openly with the adolescent, explaining that they suspect that they suffer from an eating disorder and, if the minor does not admit it, seek help from a medical professional. On the contrary, it is not advisable to force, fight or try to set traps to discover the problem.

“Parents need training and truthful information about risky eating behaviours because there are false beliefs consolidated with what they can read on the internet,” José denounces.

On the other hand, if the adolescent notices his behavioural changes, this Primary Care doctor points out that they should ask their family, friends or teachers for help without feeling ashamed or afraid of what their surroundings may think.

How to prevent anorexia and bulimia

Training and education are essential for the member of Semfyc: “Training programs should be carried out in schools on what is and is not a healthy diet.”

In his opinion, educational institutions have a fundamental role in imparting knowledge to parents and minors. “There are some habits and social pressure related to beauty and thinness that are nothing more than a reflection of society,” she points out. In his opinion, all this causes patients to have more and more complexes that lead them to this type of behaviour.

In addition, another preventive measure would go through the evaluation in Primary Care consultations. However, José acknowledges that the lack of time and other risk factors in minors who require his attention, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption and unprotected sexual relations, makes it difficult to identify diseases such as anorexia and bulimia.

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