No period and underweight — Anorexia?

Originally Published: March 19, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 1, 2007
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Alice,

What should my normal body weight be? I am 4 feet 11 inches tall and I weigh 75 pounds presently. I think that I am underweight because I haven't had my period in almost a year. If I were of normal weight, what percentage of my calories should come from fat?

— Weight conscious

Dear Weight conscious,

The fact that your menstrual cycle has stopped is a telltale sign that your weight has gone too low. It is unclear from your question whether or not you've experienced any of the signs of anorexia over the last year. Few people experience all of them, but if you have a cluster of anorexia's warning signs, it's important to see a health care provider.

Signs of Anorexia 

  • Your sense of taste is different from before, changing your appetite.    
  • You've been constipated.    
  • You feel bloated, which makes you get full earlier in a meal. 
  • You're expending less energy than you used to. 
  • Your hair is falling out.  
  • You have mood swings and difficulty concentrating.   
  • You are preoccupied with food.     
  • You're growing new downy (soft) hairs on parts of your body.   
  • You've lost muscle mass.   
  • You fear becoming fat.    
  • You constantly think about food.  
  • Your skin is rough, dry, scaly, and cold. 
  • You get dizzy, and may have blacked out.   
  • You have become preoccupied with cooking and preparing food, often fixing meals for others without actually eating.  
  • You and/or other people have become concerned that you are too thin.  

Anorexia, a disease with no simple causes or solutions, affects at least 1 percent to 3 percent of college-aged women. Eating disorders are rooted in multiple causes — biological, psychological, and social. Anorexia may begin as an attempt to lose weight, and, over time, may become life-threatening.

Talk with a health care provider who specializes in eating issues about your loss of menstrual cycle and concern about weight; or, with a nutritionist about your weight issues and percentage of calories from fat; or, with a counselor about your feelings associated with your weight loss and cessation of period. Please talk with someone and take care of your health before serious long-term effects (i.e., fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, low pulse rate, kidney failure, heart arrhythmias, and heart failure) on your body set in.

If you are at Columbia, call x4-2284 or log-in through Open Communicator for an appointment with a health care provider and/or nutritionist. To see a therapist specializing in eating concerns, call Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at x4-2878. Columbia Health Service also has an Eating Disorders Team made up of multidisciplinary clinicians who can help you address your concerns. If you are at Barnard College, call their Health Services at x4-2091.

If you are not at Columbia, try contacting the National Eating Disorders Association eating disorders information and referrals line at 1.800.931.2237.

Alice