Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people think they are heavier than they really are. The person’s body image is distorted. Persons with this disorder will look in the mirror, and no matter how thin they are, they see a fat person.
This distorted body image causes the people to lose weight and continue to lose weight until they are seriously underweight. Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness and can be chronic. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), it is estimated that up to one percent of females in the United States have this eating disorder.
The term anorexia nervosa literally means “loss of appetite,” but people who suffer from this disorder still have an appetite. They ignore the signs of hunger as a way to control their lives. They think about food often and may even be obsessed with recipes and cooking for others. They just can’t eat the food themselves.
Two subtypes exist within the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. Some people will try to keep their body weight as low as possible by dieting and severely restricting their food intake. This is called the restricting subtype. The other subtype is called the binge eating/purging subtype.
These individuals will restrict their food intake, and occasionally binge on a large quantity of food. They will then purge themselves of the food by inducing vomiting or overuse laxatives, enemas or diuretics to get rid of the food they binged on.
Some individuals will stay in one subtype for a while, move into another subtype, then move back into the original subtype. People in both subtypes may also be obsessed with exercise in addition to restricting their food intake.
Anorexia nervosa effects females much more than males. The vast majority of people affected are teenagers and young adults, approximately 90 percent. There are some exceptions, though. It does occasionally effect males, children and women in any stage of life.
A person is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when her body weight drops below 15 percent of her expected normal body weight. The patient has an extreme fear of gaining weight. She may think about dieting, weight and restricted food intake most of the day.
The person who suffers from this serious eating disorder will suffer from amenorrhea, which is when at least three consecutive menstrual cycles are skipped in a person who is at an age when she has been having regular cycles. The patient will usually deny that she has a problem.
This eating disorder is more about control over the person’s life than about food itself. This person typically sees their life as being out of control, and controlling their eating habits and weight is a way to gain control and cope with emotional problems. Typically, the person suffering from anorexia nervosa is a perfectionist with low self esteem.
This person thinks they are only worthwhile if they are as thin as they can get. Even when they are so thin it is not only unhealthy, but unattractive, they still think they are not thin enough and not worthwhile. Other symptoms of anorexia nervosa include a change in skin color, such as yellow or blotchy skin. The skin may also be covered with fine hair.
The sufferer may also show symptoms of confused thinking and her memory and judgment may be poor. The patient may suffer from depression and may get chills easily. She may even wear several layers of clothing in an effort to get warm. She has very little muscle or fat to keep her warm.
A person with anorexia may cut her food into small pieces and move them around her plate to make it appear she is eating to other people. She may avoid eating in front of others entirely. She may exercise excessively even if she is sick or injured.
Anorexia can lead to starvation, which can result in serious medical complications. The person can experience hair loss and the shut down of their body systems and organs. This eating disorder can eventually lead to death, if left untreated.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the first step in treating anorexia nervosa is the most difficult. Getting the person to admit they have a problem is often a challenge. Most people with this condition can’t recognize the problem.
They will deny there is a problem because they think they are still fat. Often, the person may not try to get treatment until the condition reaches serious stages. Once in treatment, the goal is to get the person to gain weight and maintain a healthy weight for her age and body size.
Some patients will begin the road to recovery with a short stay in a hospital. Some may need to stay longer if they have lost so much weight that their weight is below 70 percent of what it’s supposed to be. Some patients are so malnourished that they will need to be fed intravenously or though a stomach tube.
Various types of therapy are usually used to treat the patient such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a type of talk therapy one-on-one with a therapist. Other forms of therapy that may be tried include family therapy and group therapy.
Therapy will help change the person’s thinking and behavior. The goal is to get the person to eat more healthy food. Whatever emotional problems that are causing the behavior will also be addressed, or else the person may resort back to the illness in order to cope with her problems.
This is why family therapy is often used with patients who are adolescents. Support groups for family members are often helpful for the families to understand and cope with the patient and her disorder. Some medications may also be prescribed, including antidepressants, mood stabilizers or antipsychotics.
Medicines that help treat anxiety may also be helpful. The health care provider will encourage the person to increase social activity and decrease, or eliminate, exercise. The person may benefit from a eating at scheduled times.
Treatment for anorexia nervosa can be very difficult. Several types of therapies and medicines may be tried. The person may also have to undergo a battery of medical tests to ascertain how much of the physical health has been effected.
According to Women’s Health, Anorexia nervosa results in death in 10 percent of people who are suffering from this condition. With intensive treatment, the person may return to normal body weight, but the symptoms may return.
Adolescents and young adults have a better chance of complete recovery than someone who has onset of the illness later in life. Most people will continue to maintain a low body weight and will most likely focus on food and calories throughout most of their lives.
The patient may need to attend some form of therapy her whole life and this may be a constant struggle for her. Patients whose families are involved with therapy and can support the person have a better chance of recovery.
If you know someone with these symptoms, it’s important to get them to a therapist or doctor as soon as possible. If any of these behaviors sound like they might describe you, talk to a medical or mental health professional immediately.