Anorexia nervosa is likely the most well-known eating disorder.
It generally develops during adolescence or young adulthood and tends to affect more women than men.
People with anorexia generally view themselves as overweight, even if they’re dangerously underweight. They tend to constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods, and severely restrict their calories.
What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
The exact cause of anorexia nervosa isn’t known. People who develop anorexia may have a negative body image. They may be focused on being “perfect.” They may be looking for ways to control their lives. Other factors like biology, environment, and psychology are believed to play a role.
Genetics and hormones might have an effect on the development of anorexia nervosa. Some evidence suggests a link between anorexia and serotonin, a chemical produced in the brain.
Pressure from society to look thin may also contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa. Unrealistic body images from media outlets like magazines and television can greatly influence young people and spark the desire to be thin.
Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might be more predisposed to maintaining the strict diet and exercise regimen that those with anorexia nervosa often maintain. That’s because people with OCD are prone to obsessions and compulsions.
What Treatment Is Available for Anorexia Nervosa?
One of the biggest obstacles in the treatment of anorexia nervosa is realizing that you need help. Many with anorexia nervosa don’t believe they have a problem. That can make treatment difficult.
The main goal of treatment is to restore your body to a normal weight and establish normal eating habits. A dietitian will help you learn how to eat properly. It might also be recommended that your family take part in therapy with you. For many people, anorexia nervosa is a lifelong challenge.
You and your family must work hard to overcome anorexia nervosa. Individual, family, and group therapies are often an integral part of treatment.
A form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to treat anorexia nervosa. CBT helps change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Its goal is to help you learn to cope with strong emotions and build healthy self-esteem.
Family therapy gets family members involved in keeping you on track with your healthy eating and lifestyle. Family therapy also helps resolve conflicts within the family. It can help create support for the family member learning to cope with anorexia nervosa.
Group therapy allows people with anorexia nervosa to interact with others who have the same disorder. But it can sometimes lead to competition to be the thinnest. To avoid that, it’s important that you attend group therapy that is led by a qualified medical professional.
While there is no medication at this time that is proven to treat anorexia nervosa, antidepressants may be prescribed to deal with the anxiety and depression common in those with anorexia. These may make you feel better. But antidepressants do not diminish the desire to lose weight.
Depending on the severity of your weight loss, your primary care provider may want to keep you in the hospital for a few days to treat the effects of your anorexia nervosa. You may be put on a feeding tube and intravenous fluids if your weight is too low or if you’re dehydrated. If you continue to refuse to eat or exhibit psychiatric issues, your primary care provider may have you admitted into the hospital for intensive treatment.
Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- being considerably underweight compared with people of similar age and height
- very restricted eating patterns
- an intense fear of gaining weight or persistent behaviors to avoid gaining weight, despite being underweight
- a relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
- a heavy influence of body weight or perceived body shape on self-esteem
- a distorted body image, including denial of being seriously underweight
Obsessive-compulsive symptoms are also often present. For instance, many people with anorexia are often preoccupied with constant thoughts about food, and some may obsessively collect recipes or hoard food.
Such individuals may also have difficulty eating in public and exhibit a strong desire to control their environment, limiting their ability to be spontaneous.
Anorexia is officially categorized into two subtypes — the restricting type and the binge eating and purging type.
Individuals with the restricting type lose weight solely through dieting, fasting, or excessive exercise.
Individuals with the binge eating and purging type may binge on large amounts of food or eat very little. In both cases, after they eat, they purge using activities like vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, or exercising excessively.
Anorexia can be very damaging to the body. Over time, individuals living with it may experience the thinning of their bones, infertility, brittle hair and nails, and the growth of a layer of fine hair all over their body.
In severe cases, anorexia can result in heart, brain, or multi-organ failure and death.
Summary People with anorexia nervosa may limit their food intake or compensate for it through various purging behaviors. They have an intense fear of gaining weight, even when severely underweight.