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Advice on Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder - Risks and Warning Signs - Health Complications

Anorexia Nervosa

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Anorexia Eating Disorder

What is Anorexia
'Anorexia Nervosa' means 'loss of appetite for nervous reasons, although in reality there is no loss of appetite - simply a determination to suppress it.

Anorexia is about control
Sufferers feel they lack control over their lives and seek to reassert it by cracking down on their weight. So they deliberately suppress their desire. Totally irrational to outsiders, perhaps, but to anorexics it makes perfect sense. To them, every pound lost is a victory in their battle for control and every pound regained is a defeat. 

Deterioration and denial
Anorexia begins with the sufferer trying to take control over their life. Gradually, however, the illness itself takes over, distorting the person's outlook and making it virtually impossible for them to think rationally. Thus, no matter how thin they get, they continue to believe that they are too fat. In fact, their whole life becomes one long process of denial. They deny themselves food, they deny they have a problem, they deny they are emaciated and, above all, they deny the need for help. Sadly, a relatively high proportion of anorexics never recover completely and for some (10-20 per cent) the consequences are fatal.

Who is likely to develop anorexia? 
Almost anyone, but it’s much more common in teenage girls between 15 and 18. Typically, they are intelligent, sensitive, well-behaved individuals but with a low self esteem. They feel they are not deserving. In fact, they often deprive themselves of situations that offer pleasure. They set very high standards for themselves and feel they always have to prove themselves. Statistically, 90-95 per cent of anorexics are female and 30 per cent subsequently develop Bulimia Nervosa.

What causes anorexia?
No one knows for sure. It may be a traumatic event, or it may just be a build-up of things. Perhaps they are not doing well at school. Or maybe they did well at school but are now very unsure about their career or college situation.

The two types of anorexia: (1) Restricting. (2) Binge eating/Purging.
Some anorexics control their weight purely by restricting food intake and taking extreme exercise. Others, as well as restricting food intake, also engage in binge eating and purging (i.e. self-induced vomiting or extreme use of laxatives).

Warning signs
If you have (say) a daughter or girlfriend whom you suspect may be developing anorexia, look out for the following signs. The more signs you recognise, the more likely that anorexia is present.

  • Is she losing a lot of weight? (i.e. at least 7-10 pounds below the norm for her age and height).
  • Is she becoming an obsessive calorie-counter?
  • Has she started to eat only very low-calorie foods?
  • Has she started cutting her food into tiny pieces?
  • Is she secretive or evasive about her eating habits?
  • Has she started to eat her meals in private or out of sight?
  • Has she started to become obsessive about exercise, homework or any other daily routine?
  • Is she suffering unusually from infections, constipation, dizzy spells, insomnia?
  • Has she started complaining about feeling cold?
  • Does she suffer from constipation and abdominal pains?
  • Has she started vomiting or taking laxatives?
  • Has she started having any dizzy spells?
  • Have her periods stopped?
  • Has she started to complain unreasonably about being fat?
  • Has she started taking diet pills?

Early diagnosis is important
Anorexia becomes more intractable with time. Hence, early diagnosis and treatment is vital. For example, if you suspect that your child or friend may be suffering from anorexia, it is vital that you contact your doctor for advice.

Specific eating disorders
For details, click Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating.

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