What is Anorexia?
Anorexia Nervosa is classified as an eating disorder. People with Anorexia Nervosa have an obsession with food and are overly concerned with being thin. They are often so terrified of gaining weight that they go to extreme measures to lose weight or maintain a body weight that is below normal for their age and height.
Anorexic individuals restrict the amount of calories they consume, sometimes to the point of self-starvation - or purge by vomiting the small amount of food they do eat. They also use laxatives excessively or over-exercise so that their bodies burn more calories than they eat.
However, Anorexia is more than simply the need to be thin or to restrict food intake. It is often psychologically tied to the lack of control the person may be experiencing in other aspects of their lives. On a subconscious level Anorexic individuals may feel a sense of accomplishment that they have control over something in their life. The constant mental pre-occupation with food and their weight means that mental anguish, or other emotions, are avoided and not dealt with.
People with Anorexia nervosa are often overly sensitive to world issues, and often take the worries of the world onto their shoulders. The strict restriction of food may be used as a measure of how good they are at restraining themselves, taking willpower to an extreme degree. They can see it as a great feat, and inwardly applaud their determination.
Who Suffers from Anorexia and is it Serious?
Anorexia is much more prevalent in Western Societies than elsewhere in the world. This can be attributed to the commonly held Western notion that a slim figure is attractive – a notion that is perpetuated by the media and fashion.
Anorexia affects mainly young women, the most common age of onset being between 15 and 19, and approximately 90% of all cases are female. This can also be linked to a societal ideal that encourages women to be thin and men to have a strong muscular body-type.
Anorexia is a very serious disorder with a high mortality rate, and often results in severe medical consequences if left untreated. Most people with anorexia do not believe that they have a disorder and usually view their weight-loss as an accomplishment.
For this reason, they seldom seek help for themselves and are usually brought into treatment by a concerned parent or friend. There is hope, however, as there are successful treatments available and many anorexics are able to overcome their disorder and regain a healthy body-weight and sense of self.
What are the Effects of Anorexia on the Body?
Inadequate amounts of food result in malnutrition, which adversely affects all the body’s organs. Many anorexic girls seriously damage reproductive organs and functioning can be compromised. Anorexics can severely impair their vital body systems, such as the heart and kidneys, often permanently.
Anorexic girls commonly experience loss of menstruation (amenorrhea). Anorexia can have serious medical complications and severe symptoms as the effects of self-starvation and purging take a serious toll on the body’s health. Some of the many consequences of anorexia include:
- Loss of menstruation (amenorrhea)
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Brittle and thinning hair
- Sensitivity or intolerance to cold temperatures
- Cardiovascular problems such as chronically low blood pressure and heart rate, palpitations, and in extreme cases, heart failure
- Electrolyte imbalances: low potassium, sodium and magnesium
- Kidney stones or kidney failure
- Changes in brain chemistry often resulting in depression
- Lowered immune system function
- Constipation and bloating
- Headaches due to malnutrition
- In severe cases nerve damage can present, such as numbness or mild paralysis in the feet or legs
When Should I Worry About Anorexia?
Signs of Anorexia nervosa include obsessive thoughts of food and being frantically concerned with body image or weight gain. People exhibiting signs of anorexia typically feel less anxious when they have control over their strict diet and disciplined weight loss. Other signs of anorexia include feeling hopelessly unsatisfied with your figure every time you look into the mirror, even though your family and friends comment on how thin you are.
Many anorexics fail to see that this is a problem, or their fear of weight-gain overshadows their fear of health complications and physical discomfort.
Anorexia is a serious condition and has been identified as the psychological disorder with the highest mortality rate, with 10% of all cases being fatal due to resulting medical complications. It also has a very high suicide rate as it often co-exists with depression.
Parents who are concerned that a child has anorexia should seek professional advice and assessment. While many teenagers develop picky eating habits, anorexia is a serious condition requiring medical treatment. Anorexic girls and young women often must be treated in medical facilities where they are monitored 24 hours a day.