Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder that affects women and men of all ages. It is most common amongst girls and young women. It is characterised by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body weight. The term Anorexia literally means "loss of appetite," although this is misleading as people with Anorexia Nervosa are often very hungry but deny themselves food. It is a serious illness which can be fatal, although full recovery is possible with the appropriate support and treatment.
The causes of Anorexia vary from person to person. The disorder is not primarily about food and weight issues or about 'slimming'. As with all eating disorders, the psychological issues and emotional distress underlying the physical symptoms must be addressed for long-term recovery to be possible. The main factors which are believed to play a role in the development of Anorexia are;
Genetics and hormones might have an effect on the development of Anorexia Nervosa. Some evidence suggests a link between Anorexia and serotonin, a chemical produced in the brain.
Pressure from society to look thin may also contribute to the development of Anorexia Nervosa. Pictures on magazines and television can greatly influence young girls and spark the desire to be thin.
Someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) might be more predisposed to maintaining the strict diet and exercise regimen that those with Anorexia Nervosa often maintain. People with OCD strive for perfection and may feel like they will never achieve it.
The physical signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa are related to starvation, but the disorder also includes emotional and behaviour issues related to an unrealistic perception of body weight and an extremely strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
- Extreme weight loss
- Thin appearance
- Abnormal blood counts
- Dizziness or fainting
- Bluish discoloration of the fingers
- Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
- Soft, downy hair covering the body
- Absence of menstruation
- Dry or yellowish skin
- Intolerance of cold
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Low blood pressure
- Swelling of arms or legs
Emotional and Behavioural Symptoms
Behavioral symptoms of Anorexia may include attempts to lose weight by either:
- Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting and may include excessive exercise
- Bingeing and self-induced vomiting to get rid of the food and may include use of laxatives, enemas, diet aids or herbal products
Other behaviours of note may include;
- Preoccupation with food
- Refusal to eat
- Denial of hunger
- Fear of gaining weight
- Lying about how much food has been eaten
- Flat mood (lack of emotion)
- Social withdrawal
- Reduced interest in sex
- Depressed mood
- Thoughts of suicide
- Rapid weight loss over several weeks or months
- Menstrual irregularity, or absence of menstruation
- Continuing to diet even when thin or when weight is very low
- Having an unusual interest in food, calories, nutrition or cooking
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Strange eating habits or routines, such as eating in secret
- Feeling fat, even if underweight
- Inability to realistically assess one’s own body weight
- Striving for perfection and being very self-critical
- Undue influence of body weight or shape on self-esteem
- Depressed mood, anxiety, or irritability
- Infrequent or irregular menstrual periods in females
- Laxative, diuretic, or diet pill use
- Frequent illness
- Wearing loose clothing to hide weight loss
- Compulsive exercising
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Social withdrawal
- Physical symptoms that develop over time, including: low tolerance of cold weather, brittle hair and nails, dry or yellowing skin, anaemia, constipation, swollen joints and a new growth of thin hair over the body.
There is no proven method to prevent Anorexia Nervosa but looking out for signs of the disorder can help with quick diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. If you find yourself or a loved one obsessing about weight, excessively exercising, or being dissatisfied with their appearance, you may want to seek professional help.
The disorder can be very difficult to overcome. But with the proper treatment, you can gain a better sense of who you are, return to healthier eating habits and reverse some of anorexia's serious complications.