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Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa is a potentially life-threatening social and psychological eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. The majority of suffers are female, but there are also cases of Anorexia Nervosa in men.

Weight loss is achieved by a variety of obsessive behaviors. Most individuals with this disorder strongly deny it. A feeling of control is gained by severely restricting the amount of food eaten. The ability to do without food is viewed as success in attempting to cope with life's stresses. Because early detection is important to successful recovery, it is important to recognize the common warning signs and symptoms of anorexia.

Symptoms:

  • An intense drive for thinness, and refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight.
  • An intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
  • A disturbance in body image, resulting in feeling fat or overweight despite dramatic weight loss.
  • a loss of menstrual periods in post-puberty females.
  • An indifference to excessive weight loss.
  • Dizziness, blackouts, difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Pain when sitting down.

Warning Signs:

  • Dramatic weight loss with no known medical illness.
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams and dieting.
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (i.e., no carbohydrates, etc.).
  • Frequent comments about feeling "fat" or overweight despite weight loss.
  • Denial of hunger.
  • Development of food rituals (i.e., eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate, etc.).
  • Consistent avoidance of mealtimes or situations involving food.
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimens despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury, and the need to "burn off" calories taken in.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities, social isolation.
  • Behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
  • Deterioration of school and work performance.
  • Pronounced emotional changes: irritability, suspiciousness, secretiveness, hostility, intolerance.
  • Wearing of over-sized clothing to hide thinness.

Anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation. The body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, so it is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy. This "slowing down" can have serious medical consequences.

Health Consequences:

  • An abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue and overall weakness.
  • Dry hair and skin; hair loss.
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face.

Important Facts:

  • It typically develops in early to mid-adolescence.
  • It affects about 1 in 2400 adolescents.
  • 90-95 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa are female.
  • It is usually preceded by dieting behavior.
  • Psychological problems are displaced onto food.
  • A need to enjoy food vicariously by cooking it, serving it or being around it is common.
  • Body image disturbance (misperception of body size and shape) is common.
  • Between one-third and one-half of anorexics subsequently begin purging.

Statistics:

  • Approximately 90-95% of anorexia sufferers are girls and women (Gidwani, 1997).
  • Between 1-2% of American women suffer from anorexia (Zerbe, 1995).
  • Anorexia is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in young women (Hsu, 1996).
  • Between 5-20% of individuals struggling with anorexia will die. The probabilities of death increases within that range depending on the length of the condition (Zerbe, 1995).
  • Anorexia has one of the highest death rates of any psychiatric disorder. (University of Florida; Psychiatry Today, A Publication of the University of Florida Brain Institute, Walter H. Kaye, M.D.)