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Definition: Anorexia nervosa is characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight. Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Anorexia can affect individuals of all genders, races and ethnicities. While most common among females, about 10-15% of all individuals with anorexia are males. People of all ages develop anorexia but it is most common for onset to occur during adolescence. Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents in the United States. Because of self-starvation, the body is denied essential nutrients needed to function normally. The body is forced to slow down all its processes to conserve energy, resulting in acute and long-term medical consequences:
Symptoms: To be diagnosed as having Anorexia Nervosa, an individual must display the following:
Not everyone with anorexia experiences all of the same symptoms and behaviors. Here are symptoms to look for organized within categories that reflect common obsessive behavior- Weight & Body Shape, Food & Eating and Personality & Social Behavior.
Weight & Body Shape
Food & Eating Behaviors
Changes in Personality and Behavior
Causes: The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown, but it’s probably a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. There may be some genetic changes that make some people more vulnerable to developing anorexia. Some emotional characteristics may contribute to anorexia such as young women who are perfectionists and never think they are thin enough or have obsessive-compulsive traits that make it easier to stick to a strict diet and not eat even if they are hungry. Our culture emphasizes thinness through the media and peer pressure may drive the desire to be thin, especially for young girls.
Treatment: Treatment for anorexia nervosa may include medical care and psychotherapy. If there are immediate threats to your health, hospitalization may be required. A dietitian may be used to help guide the individual toward a healthy diet and learning how to maintain an appropriate weight. Individual, family and group therapy may all help too. Individual treatment can help identify and deal with the behavior and thoughts that lead to anorexia. Family therapy can support the individual and help with decision-making when it comes to sticking to a healthy eating plan. Group therapy can help by giving you a way to connect with others working through an eating disorder. There are no medications associated with treating anorexia, but sometimes anti-depressants are used to treat other issues involved such as depression or anxiety.