In simple words, anorexia nervosa is a psychological disorder characterized by delusions that you are too fat despite being emaciated. Anorexia nervosa is a serious, often chronic, and life-threatening eating disorder defined by a refusal to maintain minimal body weight within 15 percent of an individual’s normal weight.
Other essential features of this disorder include an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and amenorrhea (absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles when they are otherwise expected to occur).
The causes of anorexia are a matter of debate in medical circles and society in general. General perspectives fit between the poles of it being physiological or psychological (with the potential for sociological and cultural influences being a cause to various degrees) in origin. Many now take the opinion that it is a mix of both, in that it is a psychological condition which is often (though not inherently) borne of certain conducive neurophysiologic conditions. In addition to the classic pattern of restrictive eating, some people will also engage in recurrent binge eating and purging episodes. Starvation, weight loss, and related medical complications are quite serious and can result in death.
People who have an ongoing preoccupation with food and weight even when they are thin would benefit from exploring their thoughts and relationships with a therapist. The term anorexia literally means loss of appetite, but this is a misnomer. In fact, people with anorexia nervosa ignore hunger and thus control their desire to eat. This desire is frequently sublimated through cooking for others or hiding food that they will not eat in their personal space.
Obsessive exercise may accompany the starving behavior and cause others to assume the person must be healthy.
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include:
- Intense fear of gaining weight.
- Person refuses to maintain normal body weight for age and height.
- Restricting food or types of food, such as food containing any kind of fat.
- Weighing less than 85% of expected body weight or failure to make appropriate weight gain for a period of age and growth.
- Person denies the dangers of low weight.
- Stopping or never getting a monthly menstrual period. In men levels of sex hormones fall.
- Seeing your body as overweight, in spite of being underweight.
- Over exercising.
- Young girls do not begin to menstruate at the appropriate age.
- Secrecy around food and denial of a problem with eating.
In addition, anorexia nervosa often includes depression, irritability, withdrawal, and peculiar behaviors such as compulsive rituals, strange eating habits, and division of foods into “good/safe” and “bad/dangerous” categories. Person may have low tolerance for change and new situations; may fear growing up and assuming adult responsibilities and an adult lifestyle. May be overly engaged with or dependent on parents or family.
Dieting may represent avoidance of, or ineffective attempts to cope with, the demands of new life stage such as adolescence. Conservative estimates suggest that one-half to one percent of females in the U.S. develop anorexia nervosa.
Because more than 90 percent of all those who are affected are ADOLESCENT AND YOUNG WOMEN, the disorder has been been characterized as primarily a woman’s illness. It should be noted, however, that males and children as young as seven years old have been diagnosed; and women 50, 60, 70, and even 80 years of age have fit the diagnosis.
Successful treatment of, and recovery from, anorexia is possible, but it can take many years. The earlier intervention arrests the course of the disease, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death-rate of all mental illnesses, with as many as 20% of anorexics eventually dying of complications of the disease, usually from organ failure or low levels of pottasium. Once an anorexic reaches a certain weight, death becomes a very real possibility. The bmi (or body mass index) where this starts becoming a danger is generally around 12 to 12.5.(As a point of reference, a normal BMI is between 19 and 23, most “centrefold” models have a BMI of 18, and most fashion models come in at 17. An anorectic bmi is usually defined as being below 17.5.) Approaches include hospitalization, psychotherapy specialised anorexia treatment-centres, and family counseling.
The prescription of drugs such as antidepressant is also practiced. Support groups such as overeaters anonymous, which deals with eating disorders in general, can also be helpful. Appropriate treatment of any present vitamin and dietary-mineral deficiencies, particularly in the common case of zinc deficiency, may be highly beneficial to the sufferer’s mental and physical well being.