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Starving for the Good: An Anorexic's Search for Meaning & Perfection | Elisabeth Huh | TEDxUChicago

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Anorexia Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Starving for the Good: An Anorexic's Search for Meaning & Perfection | Elisabeth Huh | TEDxUChicago : Anorexia nervosa, often referred to simply as anorexia, is an eating disorder, characterized by low weight, food restriction, fear of gaining weight, and a strong desire to be thin. Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight even though they are, in fact, underweight.

What is anorexia? An eating disorder as a result of which people become obsessive about the food they eat and their weight is known as anorexia nervosa. People suffering from anorexia nervosa become obsessive about maintaining a weight that is considerably abnormal for their age and height. People suffering from this eating disorder either exercise excessively or starve themselves to continue losing weight or prevent themselves from gaining weight.

Anorexia nervosa is basically an unhealthy way of coping with emotional issues. People suffering from anorexia nervosa feel that they will be valued more if they are thinner. Overcoming anorexia nervosa is not an easy task. However, the unhealthy eating habits that people take up as a result of this disorder and the severe complications that are caused by this disorder can be reversed through proper treatment.

What are the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

As mentioned, people suffering from this eating disorder severely restrict the amount of food they eat, which results in weight loss. Often, they also exercise excessively to lose weight. Like bulimia, people with anorexia can also binge and purge. People with anorexia will also try to vomit after they eat to control caloric intake, or they might misuse diuretics, enemas or laxatives.

There are numerous behavioral, emotional and physical anorexia signs and symptoms that can help diagnose this eating disorder.

Physical symptoms

People suffering from anorexia experience the following physical symptoms:

  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Dry skin
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Swelling of arms or legs

Behavioral and Emotional symptoms

People suffering from anorexia showcase the following behavioral and emotional symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive exercising
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal

People suffering from anorexia usually do their best to disguise their eating habits, physical problems or thinness. This is the reason noticing the signs and symptoms of anorexia is not an easy task.

Thus, there are certain red flags to watch out for that can also help determine if someone is suffering from anorexia. People suffering from anorexia:

  • Adopt rigid eating or meal rituals
  • Avoid eating in public
  • Complain about being fat even though they are not
  • Cook savory meals for others but refuse to eat
  • Eat only particular foods that are low in calories and fat
  • Skip meals frequently
  • Check their weight repeatedly

What are the causes of anorexia nervosa?

It is not really known what exactly causes anorexia nervosa. Most probably, it is a combination of biological, environmental and psychological factors that leads to this eating disorder.

Biological : Some people can become more prone to developing anorexia because of genetic changes. However, it is uncertain anorexia is caused by genes. It is believed that some people are genetically more sensitive and tend to want to look perfect in every way. It is also believed that anorexia is linked to serotonin, one of the neurochemicals, which causes depression.

Environmental : Thinness seems to be flaunted by Modern Western culture. Images of thin actors and models can be seen all over the media. Thus, people who develop anorexia believe that they will only be successful and worthy if they are thin. The desiring of thinning down in people with anorexia is also fueled by peer pressure.

Psychological : Anorexia at times is also caused by certain emotional factors. Women suffering from obsessive-compulsive issues are more prone to developing anorexia since they can easily stick to a diet and give eating.

How is anorexia nervosa treated?

Several types of treatment become necessary for those suffering from anorexia. At times, people have to be admitted to a hospital emergency room if they are suffering from a very severe case of anorexia.

The treatment of a patient suffering from anorexia includes:

  • Family-based therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Medical care
  • Medications
  • Psychotherapy
  • Restoration of a healthy weight

At times, the severity of a case of anorexia can be far greater than others. Treating and recovering from less severe cases of anorexia takes lesser time. People suffering from anorexia often refuse treatment, which is one of the biggest challenges when treating this eating disorder.

Leaving anorexia untreated can result in a number of complications, so the sooner it is treated the better because in the most severe cases, it can even be fatal. Thus, anorexia is quite a complicated eating disorder, and the above information explains all of its signs, symptoms, causes and treatment options.

Starving for the Good: An Anorexic's Search for Meaning & Perfection | Elisabeth Huh | TEDxUChicago : Elisabeth shares her inspiring story battling anorexia and offers her perspective on how others can recover through the power of communication, empathy, and moral understanding.

Elisabeth Huh is a third-year who was initially unable to attend the University of Chicago because of her severe struggles with anorexia. Since her recovery, she has worked as a memoirist, national essay finalist, and now TEDxUChicago speaker to help others re-conceptualize eating disorders as symptoms of a deeper societal illness.
Elisabeth is majoring in Fundamentals: Issues and Texts and minoring in Human Rights. Her interdisciplinary program of study extends into all aspects of her life. On campus, she advocates human rights advocacy events with UChicago Amnesty International and helped start its first-annual Human Rights Journal. She is also working on creating a new campus human rights report. Elisabeth is the Head Ethics Editor of the University of Chicago Undergraduate Philosophy Review and is Co-Editor-In-Chief of The Midway Review. She teaches moral and political philosophy to middle-schoolers on the South Side of Chicago.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

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Anorexia Nervosa Definition Psychology
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