Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. The individual suffering from anorexia experiences an intense fear of weight gain. Any actual or perceived weight gain is met with a horrifying fear of getting fat. When it comes to the anorexics experience of the way they see themselves, their perception becomes distorted. The areas of the body representing maturity, femininity, and/or sexuality are often the areas viewed as “Fat.” The anorexic sufferer also experiences unrealistic expectations of self, extreme rigidity, and perfectionistic traits. These traits can most often be traced back to early childhood. Anorexia causes one to be in a constant state of depletion, feeling undeserving of love, protection, and nurturance. This depletion and lack of nourishment results in the display of how they often feel: less than, unworthy, and invisible.
Most individuals suffering from anorexia end up with a very restricted diet that is sometimes limited to only a few foods. But, there is also a subtype of Anorexia Nervosa who may regularly purge, even after the consumption of small amounts of food, through self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. The individual suffering from Anorexia engages in behaviors to disconnect from their bodily hunger cues but, actually obsess about food all day long. These individuals deeply experience a strong yearning to control, deny, or disconnect from their desire to eat. They will engage in unhealthy and ritualistic behaviors to try to control their weight or hunger. To the individual suffering from anorexia, self-starvation and weight loss are viewed as a success, a sign of remarkable discipline, and control over their life.
The following diagnostic criteria which defines Anorexia Nervosa are taken from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revision:
- 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 underweight.
- Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
- The absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles in girls and women post-puberty.
According to the National eating disorder association (www.NationalEatingDisorders.org) the following are statistics regarding prevalence of anorexia:
Between 0.5-1% of women suffer from anorexia.
Between 5-20% of individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa will die. The probabilities of death increases within that range depending on the length of the condition (Zerbe, 1995).
Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition.
Anorexia nervosa typically appears in early to mid-adolescence.
Signs & symptoms of Anorexia:
- Amenorrhea (loss of menses)
- Dizziness and headaches
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive exercise
- Evidence of laxative, diet pills or diuretics to control weight
- Edema (water retention)
- Cold hands and feet
- Cold intolerance
- Hypersensitivity to noise and light
- Lethargy and/or excess energy
- Pale complexion
- Noticeable thinning and loss of hair
- Dryness of skin/scalp
- Lanugo- increased facial and body hair
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss
Psychological signs & symptoms of Anorexia:
- Perfectionist traits extreme difficulty with flexibility
- People with anorexia are not only afraid of food but, also afraid of themselves
- Needing to be in control
- Pursuit of thinness
- Diminished capacity to think
- Increased mood swings
- Rigidity with all thoughts, feelings, and experiences
- Inferiority, shame, and constant self criticism
- Feelings of self worth determined by what is or is not eaten
- Noticeable discomfort around food
Unhealthy behaviors and food rituals:
- Excessive gum chewing
- Tearing/cutting food into small pieces
- Covering food with extra condiments
- Collecting cookbooks or menus and cooking for other people
- Trying to shop for and feed other people
- Eating slowly, procrastinating, or playing with food
- Excessive talking or no talking or eye contact at meal
- Eating foods in certain orders
- Excessive intake of fluids
- Weighing or measuring food
- Avoiding social eating
- Utilizing distracting behaviors such as working or shopping
- Excessive, rigid exercise routine despite weather, illness, or injury.
- Excuses for not eating meals (i.e. ate earlier, not feeling well)
- Severe dehydration which can result in kidney failure
- Anemia (iron deficiencies)
- Osteopenia/Osteoporosis which is degenerative loss of bone density resulting from lack of calcium and other dietary deficiencies
- Loss of hearing
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
- The risk of heart failure rises as heart rate and blood pressure levels decrease lower and lower
- Cathartic colon (caused from laxative abuse)
- Low potassium (most common cause of cardiac arrest)