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Anorexia Nervosa

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, a lack of  menstruation among girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating  behavior. Some people with anorexia lose weight by dieting and  exercising excessively; others lose weight by self-induced vomiting, or  misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas.

Many people with anorexia  see themselves as overweight, even when they are starved or are clearly  malnourished. Eating, food and weight control become obsessions. A  person with anorexia typically weighs herself or himself repeatedly,  portions food carefully, and eats only very small quantities of only  certain foods. Some who have anorexia recover with treatment after only  one episode. Others get well but have relapses. Still others have a more  chronic form of anorexia, in which their health deteriorates over many  years as they battle the illness.

Ten  Warning Signs

• Deliberate self-starvation with weight  loss
• Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
• Refusal to  eat or highly restrictive eating
• Continuous dieting
•  Excessive facial/body hair because of inadequate protein in the diet
•  Compulsive exercise
• Abnormal weight loss
• Sensitivity to  cold
• Absent or irregular menstruation
• Hair loss

Anorexia  Nervosa Symptoms Explained

1.  Weight

15%  below ideal body weight. Refusing to maintain a normal weight or  above-normal weight for height and age.  Not everyone who is of a low  weight is anorexic; it is important to recognize that it is the REFUSAL  to maintain a normal weight that is the key factor.

It is  sometimes difficult to identify anorexia in children because their  height appears to be in proportion to their weight. A possible  complication of an eating disorder is stunted growth in children. A  pediatrician will need to carefully monitor him/her with a growth chart.  Also, young children may not talk about weight but rather may describe  physical complaints such as nausea or feelings of fullness.

2.   Intense Fear of Gaining Weight or Becoming Fat, Even if Underweight

This intense fear is powerful enough to cause individuals to  diet to the point of starvation. While the term anorexia means loss of  appetite, this is not true of anorexia nervosa. A person with anorexia  is hungry but he or she is afraid to eat because of the fear. Often  specific foods are avoided, especially those that are high in fat and  calories. Often individuals will become vegetarians and want to eat  healthily when indeed the issue is the fear of gaining weight.

A  person with anorexia constantly thinks about food – how many calories,  how many fat grams, how much exercise is needed if you eat a cookie? How  many times do you check the scale?

There is always the attempt  to try to control eating because of the fear of gaining weight. Often  meals are avoided or eaten very slowly, pondering each bite, fearing  that eating will surely make one fat.

These thoughts begin to  control a person’s mind 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A person’s entire  life can be centered on this one issue, depriving that person of joy in  friends, fun and family.

3. Body Image Problems

When  a person with anorexia looks into a mirror he/she does not often see an  accurate reflection. A person with anorexia sees him/herself as fat,  even if he/she is dangerously thin. This is a very frightening  experience and feels very real – driving the person to diet.

Sometimes  a person with anorexia can accept that he/she is very thin but cannot  accept how dangerous the situation really is. It is difficult for  him/her to understand that a very low weight and dangerous dieting  habits can actually be fatal. The death rate for anorexia is higher than  for any other psychiatric illness.

4. Amenorrhea or Absence  of Menstruation

Missing 3 periods is usually the criteria  for this state. Of course, these criteria are not applied to males,  young females who have not started their periods, or females who are on  birth-control pills.

Types of Anorexia

Many  individuals with anorexia will severely restrict their calories  sometimes taking in only a few hundred calories a day or just water.  This is called the RESTRICTING TYPE. Our bodies do not like to starve.  Remember, the individual with anorexia has an appetite; he/she just  tries to control it. It is very difficult when a person is starving not  to want to eat. What happens to many individuals is that they lose  control, they eat, or eat something they feel they should not have  eaten. For these individuals, this might mean something as simple as a  cookie, a normal meal or even a binge. With the fear of gaining weight,  they may vomit or exercise. This type of anorexia is called the  BINGE-EATING/PURGING TYPE, one of the most dangerous forms of an eating  disorder.