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What is Anorexia?

Incidences of anorexia have been increasing over the last several decades. Anorexia is destructive both physically and mentally. Up to 20 percent of sufferers die as a result of health complications created by malnutrition and low body weight or suicide. Those who develop anorexia can often be described as perfectionists, overachievers, or pleasers. Often highly self-critical, they may see themselves as inadequate, positive feedback from others. Verbal, physical, or sexual abuse are all risk factors for developing anorexia. Any negative parental influence or participation in activities that generally require slenderness can also contribute to the development of anorexia.

Definition

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder primarily defined by low body weight — less than 85 percent of a healthy weight — and an exaggerated view of one’s own body. Those suffering from anorexia nervosa are often highly restrictive with calories and the types of food they eat. There are two types of anorexia nervosa. Those suffering from the restricting type do not regularly binge and purge. Those suffering from the binge-eating-purging type regularly binge and purge.

Symptoms

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though under weight
  • Unrealistic view of own body weight or shape
  • Undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation
  • Denial of seriousness of low body weight
  • At least three consecutive cycles of periods occurring only with hormone administration

Treatment

Treatment should include a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, with at least one mental health professional, one medical health, and a registered dietitian or nutritionist. Family therapy may also be included to teach loved ones how to support the person suffering from an eating disorder; this is especially important for children and teens. Due to the complexity of eating disorders, it is strongly recommended that you find professionals that specialize in the treatment of eating disorders. Anti-depressant medications may be a small part of treatment. Hospitalization may be necessary to treat health complications. Treatment will likely be long term; however, up to 76 percent of sufferers recover within five years.

Prevention

There is no known prevention for anorexia nervosa. Primary care physicians can monitor early warning signs and ask diagnostic questions to determine a need for early intervention. Programs focusing on media literacy and interactive discussion have been successful in reducing eating disorder risk factors.

July 20th, 2010

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