Anorexia nervosa is defined by the persistent restriction of energy intake, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by abnormal weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, in many individuals, a distorted perception of their own body image. People with anorexia generally restrict the number of calories and the types of food they eat. Some people with the disorder also exercise compulsively, purge via vomiting and laxatives, and/or binge eat.
Types of Anorexia Nervosa
There are two defined sub-types:
- Restrictive Anorexia Nervosa: Typified by skipping of meals, limitations in the size of food portions and critical preferences for certain types of food, with a focus on calorie-counting. Affected persons frequently engage in compulsive exercising to lose weight. They rarely resort to self-induced purging, but may use appetite suppressants. The rigid behaviour leads to dangerous levels of malnourishment.
- Purgative Anorexia Nervosa: Affected persons engage in purgative methods like self-induced vomiting and the misuse of diuretics and laxatives, even after taking only small portions of food or beverages. They may also indulge in binge-eating sessions, followed by intense purgative actions. They often use appetite suppressants. In extreme cases, the health consequences can be terminal.
What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
Some people feel that they cannot control vital aspects of their lives, so they channel all their energy into managing their weight, in a desperate attempt to satisfy the need to control their own destiny.
The person’s self-esteem is based primarily on how they think they look. They usually believe that a lean appearance is an absolute necessity for social acceptance and success in the workplace. They then develop an obsessive, ongoing tendency to see themselves as overweight, even after reaching a visual state of emaciation.
Sometimes people start a “safe” weight-reducing diet and then it develops into anorexia nervosa. This may be due to the person being predisposed or vulnerable to developing eating disorders. The onset of anorexia nervosa can be precipitated by a range of social, environmental, genetic and experiential factors, including:
- Childhood and/or recent traumatic events.
- Pre-existing, unresolved emotional disorders.
- A significant need for social acceptance.
- Sensitivity to failure in the workplace.
- Perfectionist or compulsive tendencies.
- The media associating leanness with virtue.
- Perceived peer pressure to be lean and sexy.
- A hereditary/genetic family disorder.
Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
In addition to being underweight, anorexic persons can exhibit any of these signs:
- Inordinate fear of gaining weight or becoming obese.
- Intense preoccupation with body shape, appearance.
- A distorted perception/believe in being overweight.
- Ignorance of their own undernourished appearance.
- Nervous or deceptive behaviour around mealtimes.
- Selecting food types based on calorie content.
- Severely limiting the size of food portions.
- Skipping meals often and offering flimsy excuses.
- Secretively disposing of unfinished meals.
- Frequent bathroom excursions to induce vomiting.
- Rationalising about “reasons” for health problems.
- Constant refusal of social invitations involving food.
- Preoccupation with dieting and new dietary trends.
- Frequent changes in food or beverage preferences.
- Excessive, compulsive exercising to lose weight.
- High sensitivity to comments about body shape.
- Loose fitting clothes, frequently buying new outfits.
- Mood swings, including anxiety and depression.
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
In addition to the common signs of anorexia, symptoms may include:
- Headaches, dizziness, insomnia.
- Constipation, bloating, diarhoea, abdominal pain.
- Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, kidney failure.
- Weakness, fatigue, oedema (water retention).
- Loss of bone calcium and muscle mass.
- Irregular menstruation, infertility, loss of libido.
- Poor blood circulation, severe cardiac problems.
- Low iron levels (anaemia), poor immune system.
- Comorbid physical illnesses and mental disorders.
Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa
Medical treatment: Treatment of illnesses due to malnutrition, and prescription medication for patients who need it to resolve extreme symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Nutritional treatment: Professional dieticians can provide advice about safe recovery diets, as well as advice about problematic eating patterns.
Psychological therapy: A widely accepted method for uncovering and healing pre-existing disorders, as well as the current eating disorder. Also prepares affected persons and people close to them for long-term relapse prevention. Dynamic rehabilitation centres offer culinary arrangements as a requisite part of the treatment process.