Exploring How Nutrition Affects Anorexia Nervosa | Aster Springs

Exploring How Nutrition Affects Anorexia Nervosa

It is well-known that anorexia can have a significant negative impact on one’s health. For those suffering from this disorder, it can help to understand the specific risks of malnutrition, how adequate nutrition can minimize these risks, and how to find anorexia support.  

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder that distorts one’s view of self, leading to severe malnutrition and weight loss due to the fear of weight gain. The diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 (mental disorder diagnostic guide) are as follows:1

  • Restriction of energy intake leading to a low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health
  • Intense fear of weight gain or ongoing behaviors that prevent weight gain
  • Disturbance in the way one sees their weight or shape, excessive emphasis on body weight or shape for one’s self-worth, or inability to recognize the seriousness of one’s low body weight

How Nutrition Affects Anorexia

First, it’s important to understand how anorexia impacts nutrition. When someone is struggling with anorexia nervosa, their intake of calories is severely restricted. This leads to malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. 

Those with anorexia run a high risk for most nutrient deficiencies. Some of the more commonly seen deficiencies in those with anorexia include:

  • Protein deficiency
  • Fatty acid deficiency
  • Iron deficiency (anemia)
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • B vitamin deficiencies, including thiamine and B12

Each deficiency has its own health consequences. For example, those who are not eating enough calcium and vitamin D3 present a risk for weaker bones and teeth. Meanwhile, iron deficiency can lead to severe fatigue. B vitamin deficiencies can lead to neurological problems. Fatty acid deficiency can lead to cold intolerance and dry, flaky skin. Protein deficiency can lead to muscle wasting and hair loss.

The good news is that adequate nutrition can prevent the progression of these complications and could even reverse many deficiencies altogether. Good nutrition can improve energy levels, protect bone health, improve body temperature regulation, and improve the strength of hair and nails. 

It’s important to note that not all complications of anorexia nervosa are reversible. That is why it is vital to seek help for your eating disorder.

Improving Your Nutrition and Anorexia Treatment Options

There are a few practical steps you can take to begin improving your nutrition. These include:

  • Work with a registered dietitian. Your dietitian can identify which nutrients you aren’t eating enough of, help you set goals to improve your nutrient intake, and work with you to explore your relationship with food.
  • Find support at home. Talk with your loved ones about how they can support you. Whether you need help with grocery shopping, cooking, or just a reassuring presence at mealtimes, having support from family and friends can positively impact your nutrition and overall recovery.
  • Correct vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Your doctor may run a blood test to check to your levels of certain nutrients. If deficiencies are found, they may start you on a supplement until you are able to obtain adequate amounts of these nutrients from food alone.

Nutrition plays a vital role in overall health and well-being, although it can be challenging to obtain enough nutrients for those suffering from anorexia. Aster Springs has a compassionate team of eating disorder professionals who will support you through every step of your journey. Find a location near you. 


  1. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia

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