Symptoms of Starvation in Eating Disorder Patients

  • Riccardo Dalle Grave
  • Elettra Pasqualoni
  • Giulio Marchesini


The most extensive and thoughtful description of the symptoms associated with underweight and dietary restrictions, traditionally called “starvation symptoms”, was given by Keys et al. in 1950 in their classic book The Biology of Human Starvation. The individual reactions to dietary restrictions and to weight loss were heterogeneous among the men participating in the study. However, in most cases the participants experienced dramatic effects, developing abnormal attitudes and behaviors related to food and eating and various psychosocial and physical changes. The most frequent starvation symptoms reported by underweight eating disorder patients are preoccupation with thoughts about food and eating, irritability, mood changes, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal, weakness, gastrointestinal discomfort, cold intolerance, impaired concentration, apathy, and heightened satiety. The interaction of eating disorder psychopathology with starvation symptoms seems to stimulate further dietary restriction by undermining the person’s sense of being in control over their eating, shape, weight, or themselves in general. In addition, some eating disorder individuals interpret their starvation symptoms as a positive sign of being in control and as evidence that they are working hard to achieve their goal of controlling eating, shape, and weight. The knowledge of starvation symptoms and how they interact with eating disorder psychopathology have important implications both for understanding and treating eating disorders.


Celiac Disease Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder Caloric Restriction Dietary Restriction 
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Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders


Not otherwise specified


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Riccardo Dalle Grave
    • 1
  • Elettra Pasqualoni
  • Giulio Marchesini
  1. 1.Department of Eating and Weight DisorderVilla Garda HospitalGarda (VR)Italy

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