Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by obsessive preoccupation with weight and an intense fear of weight gain. A person with anorexia typically how a low self image and fixates on physical appearance. The individual may not acknowledge that they are losing weight and continue behaviors even when they are considered underweight for their height and age making this a potentially fatal disorder.
By understanding the signs and symptoms of this disorder, as well as the consequences, you can better help a loved one who is suffering from this disorder.
- Losing a significant amount of weight
- Continuing to diet although thin
- Feeling fat, even after losing weight
- Fearing weight gain
- Losing monthly menstrual periods (may still have period if on birth control)
- Preoccupation with food, calories, and nutrition
- Exercising compulsively
- Bingeing and purging
If you see these signs in a loved one it is important to either approach that individual or tell a trusted professional about your concerns. If an eating disorder is allowed to continue untreated, there are numerous physical and mental complications that can result from the long-term malnutrition; some of which are permanent.
- Hair loss
- Gaunt, hollow facial features
- Shrunken breasts
- Dry skin
- Sharply protruding bones
- Cold and blue hands and feet
- Delayed puberty: pre-adolescent females fail to menstruate and develop breasts at a normal age; in males, testosterone levels might remain low, leading to impotence.
- Menstruation: hormone levels drop, alerting the body to become irregular or stops completely- can result in temporary or permanent infertility.
- Premature bone loss: susceptibility to stress fractures and osteoporosis.
- Mood changes: impatience, irritability, depression, suicidal tendencies
- Insomnia, constipation, sensitivity to cold, kidney failure, abnormally low heart rate and blood pressure.
Keep in mind that any individual can develop an eating disorder but there are certain factors that put some individuals at a higher risk than others:
- Being female: Women are more likely than men to develop anorexia nervosa;
- Young age: Individuals in their teens are more likely to develop anorexia nervosa for a variety of reasons. They are going through puberty which causes their bodies to change and they can become more sensitize to criticism. Additionally, high levels of peer pressure can push a teen to resort to eating disorder behaviors. It is important to note that although it is rare, older individuals do develop anorexia nervosa as well.
- Genetics: studies have shown that certain genetic make ups can put one at higher risk for eating disorders
- Family history: Individuals with a first degree relative (mother, father, etc) who had the disorder are more likely to develop the disorder
- Weight gain or loss: When an individual loses or gains weight and is met with either very positive or very negative feedback as a result, it may push them to begin extreme diets in order to continue gaining praise or avoiding criticism.
- Transitions: Major life transitions such as moving, the death of a loved one, divorce, or other trauma can cause stress, triggering disordered eating patterns.
- Sports, work, and artistic activities: Certain careers and activities which demand thinness can cause an individual to resort to eating disorder behavior. Those most at risk are ballerinas, figure skaters, wrestlers, models, actors/actresses, and T.V. personalities. Many in these fields believe that being thin can increase their upward mobility and make them more successful. Parents and coaches can also increase risk inadvertently by suggesting the athlete lose weight.
- Media: Thinness being praised in the media has often been viewed as a trigger to increase dieting and eating disorder behavior; however, a direct link between the two has never been made as eating disorders are typically multifaceted disorders. Studies do show that exposure to such media can cause individuals to associate being thin with popularity, success, and self-worth.