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anorexia nervosa

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological illness with often devastating physical consequences. The sufferer usually has a morbid fear of weight gain and becoming fat, although this is not the case for all anorectics. Those suffering from anorexia will deprive themselves of food (and sometimes liquids), leading to weight loss and, usually, a variety of physical problems and health issues.

Like other eating disorders, anorexia is a mask covering other underlying problems. The sufferer tends to have low self-esteem and a need to control aspects of their environment. Anorexia is used as a way to cope with stress, anxiety and feeling out of control.

Eating disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia, usually affect females but the number of male anorectics is on the increase. Somebody can develop anorexia at any age, in any place and in any situation.

Facts and statistics for anorexia

Causes of anorexia nervosa

There is no pre-determined cause of anorexia and the reasons for the onset of the disorder may vary from person to person. Often there are a number of contributory factors, many of which may be from the sufferer’s past. One thing that all anorectics have in common is low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can quickly lead to a negative body image.

Causes of eating disorders

Behavioral signs and symptoms

Somebody suffering from anorexia will often go to extreme lengths to avoid consuming food. One of the most typical behaviors is lying about having eaten, which can quickly become second nature.

Anorectics will also make excuses so they can eat less or avoid meals altogether. They may decide to become vegetarian or vegan, claim they need to fast for religious reasons, or they may simply claim they are on a diet.

Other signs include the sufferer withdrawing and isolating themselves, attempts by the sufferer to cover up their weight loss, and eratic behavior or mood swings.
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Physical signs and symptoms

There are many physical symptoms associated with anorexia, some of which become more severe the longer the disorder remains untreated. Most sufferers will encounter health problems sooner rather than later. These problems include:
  • Starvation
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle and cartilage deterioration
  • Osteoporosis
  • Irregular or slow heart beat
  • Heart failure
What these symptoms mean

Diagnostic criteria (DSM IV)

1. Refusal to maintain body weight over a minimum normal weight for age and height (i.e. weight loss leading to body weight 15% below that expected… or…failure to make expected weight gain during a period of growth, leading to body weight 15% below that expected.)

2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though underweight.

3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight, size or shape is experienced, undue influence of body shape and weight on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight.

4. In females, absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles when otherwise expected to occur (primary or secondary amenorrhoea).

Diagnostic criteria for all eating disorders

Atypical anorexia nervosa (ICD-10)

Disorders that fulfill some of the features of anorexia nervosa but in which the overall clinical picture does not justify that diagnosis. For instance, one of the key symptoms, such as amenorrhoea or marked dread of being fat, may be absent in the presence of marked weight loss and weight-reducing behavior. This diagnosis should not be made in the presence of known physical disorders associated with weight loss.