Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia nervosa believe they are overweight when they’re actually underweight, often to the point of emaciation. Anorexics are unable to maintain a healthy body weight and deny that their low-body weight is a serious issue. The overarching problem has little to do with food and more to do with an emotional imbalance which causes anorexics to associate thinness with self-worth. Their perception of body weight and shape is distorted, and their self-esteem is based in large part on how they feel about the way they look.

Anorexics may repeatedly weigh themselves, exactly portion their food and eat small amounts of a few preferred foods. Some people with anorexia may also binge-eat – that is, eat very large quantities of food – then diet and purge excessively using self-induced vomiting, extreme exercise, laxatives, diuretics and enemas. Many anorexics hide their condition by wearing layers of lose and baggy clothing and lying about their caloric intake. They often skip meals, cook elaborate meals for others while refusing to partake in them. The tend to make excuses for not eating, eat only a few foods that they consider “safe”, and  adopt rigid eating rituals such as spitting out a piece of food after chewing it and hiding it.

While, the cause of anorexia is not clear, scientists believe a person’s genetic disposition and environment play roles in the development of the disease. There’s some evidence that serotonin — a brain chemical that plays a part in depression — may play a role in anorexia. The emphasis on thinness in modern Western culture is likely a contributor to anorexia. Peer pressure among young girls may also increase the desire to be thin.

Most anorexics are more concerned with maintaining their perceived  flawed body image than improving their health and are resistant to seeking treatment on their own. Left untreated, anorexia nervosa can lead to death. According to the Eating Disorders Coalition, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness with up to 20 percent of those affected dying from physical complications of the disorder. Some anorexics will recover with treatment after only one diagnosed episode. Others will get well, but relapse. For others, anorexia nervosa becomes a chronic issue that causes their health to seriously deteriorate over time.

Emotional Characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Acute fear of weight gain
  • Extremely restrictive eating
  • Lying about how much they’ve eaten
  • Unrealistic perception of their body image
  • Denial of  hunger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Flat mood or affect
  • Continued refusal to eat
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Irritability

Physical Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Extreme thinness
  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis (bone thinning)
  • Brittle, splitting nails
  • Falling, dry, brittle  hair
  • Dry, cracked and yellow-tinted skin
  • Lack of menstruation among girls and women (amenorrhea)
  • Fine baby-like hair growth on the face, arms and torso
  • Mild anemia
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to body organs; heart muscle, brain, kidneys
  • Swollen arms and legs
  • Dehydration
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Low internal body temperature, chilled feeling
  • Lethargy, sluggishness or overall feeling tiredness
  • Infertility