Anorexia Nervosa is a psychological and possibly life-threatening eating disorder defined by an extremely low body weight relative to stature (this is called BMI [Body Mass Index] and is a function of an individual’s height and weight), extreme and needless weight loss, illogical fear of weight gain, and distorted perception of self-image and body.
Additionally, women and men who suffer with anorexia nervosa exemplify a fixation with a thin figure and abnormal eating patterns. Anorexia nervosa is interchangeable with the term anorexia, which refers to self-starvation and lack of appetite.
Major Types of Anorexia
There are two common types of anorexia, which are as follows:
- Anorexia Nervosa Binge / Purge Type – The individual suffering from anorexia nervosa binge / purge type, will purge when he or she eats. This is typically a result of the overwhelming feelings of guilt a sufferer would experience in relation to eating; they compensate by vomiting, abusing laxatives, or excessively exercising.
- Restrictive Anorexia Nervosa – In this form of anorexia nervosa, the individual will fiercely limit the quantity of food consumed, characteristically ingesting a minimal amount that is well below their body’s caloric needs, effectively slowly starving him or herself.
Causes of Anorexia
Anorexia is not a simple disorder. It has many symptoms and effects, and its causes are complex as well. Currently, it is thought that anorexia nervosa develops as a result of multiple factors, both biological and environmental.
Examples of environmental factors that would contribute to the occurrence of anorexia nervosa are:
- The effects of the thinnessculture in media, that constantly reinforce thin people as ideal stereotypes
- Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling
- Family and childhood traumas: childhood sexual abuse, severe trauma
- Peer pressure among friends and co-workers to be thin or be sexy.
Examples of biological factors include:
- Irregular hormone functions
- Genetics (the tie between anorexia and one’s genes is still being heavily researched, but we know that genetics is a part of the story).
- Nutritional deficiencies
Anorexia Signs & Symptoms
An individual suffering from anorexia nervosa may reveal one or several signs and symptoms such as:
- Chronic dieting despite being hazardously underweight
- Obsession with calories and fat contents of food
- Engaging in ritualistic eating patterns, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, eating alone, and/or hiding food
- Continued fixation with food, recipes, or cooking; the individual may cook intricate meals for others but refrain from partaking
- Amenorrhea: an abnormal absence of menstruation, or loss of 3 consecutive menstrual cycles
- Depression or lethargic stage
- Development of lanugo: soft, fine hair that grows on face and body
- Reported sensation of feeling cold, particularly in extremities
- Loss or thinning of hair
- Avoidance of social functions, family and friends. May become isolated and withdrawn
Dieting Vs. Anorexia
Though the restrictive eating patterns that characterize anorexia nervosa are similar to dieting behaviors, there are stark differences between the two. The effects of the extreme behaviors resulting from anorexia nervosa are far more devastating and consequential than dieting.
While someone may diet in an attempt to control weight, anorexia nervosa is often an attempt to gain control over one’s life and emotions, especially in the light of traumatic events or a chaotic environment.
While someone might diet in an attempt to lose weight as the primary goal, in anorexia they may diet because they perceive losing weight as a way to achieve happiness and self mastery.