Anorexia Nervosa - Dying for Perfection

 By: Annabelle Wolski
One of the most common and potentially fatal of the eating disorders is anorexia nervosa. This disorder affects a huge number of young women for a variety of reasons. It has also been established that around twenty percent of sufferers of this disorder are young males. It can also affect both males and females in the older age bracket.

Obviously, one of the most visible signs of this disorder is the excessive weight loss that comes with self starvation. The sufferers of this illness severely restrict their intake of food and suffer great anxiety at the thought of losing control of their weight. The thought of becoming fat creates incredible stress for them. Health professionals believe that anorexia nervosa is more closely related to low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness than it is to actual food and weight.

There are serious medical complications and psychological problems associated with anorexia nervosa. Around ten percent of sufferers die from the physical complications of the disorder although there is certainly hope for people if they seek assistance in time. The sooner they seek medical help, the greater their chances of recovery from this insidious illness.

Main signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

There is a large number of warning signs that may be a sign that a person has anorexia nervosa but there are also some main signs and symptoms to look out for. These include:

- Dieting until they lose excessive amounts of weight and refusing to gain weight despite the unhealthy weight level they have reached;
- An incredible dread about putting on weight or about losing control of their food intake;
- The belief that other people see them as being fat even though their weight is well below normal. The sufferer also believes that he or she is still fat;
- Putting ridiculously severe restrictions on food intake; and
- Periods will possibly stop for a woman past puberty and may not even begin for those who develop this disorder before reaching puberty.

Warning signs of anorexia

There are also a large number of warning signs though these are not a way to form a diagnosis. They may, however, give out a warning to people that a loved one has a problem and may need help. Some of these behavioral signs include:

- A person performing peculiar rituals around food. This may include things such as chewing each mouthful a certain amount of times or eating their food in a certain order;
- Choosing to eat alone rather than in company;
- Refusal to attend any social gatherings where there is food involved;
- Categorizing foods, including entire food groups, into good and bad foods;
- Excessive exercising;
- Excessive weighing;
- Living their life around food;
- Totally preoccupied with food, dieting, and weight loss;
- Becoming withdrawn from family and friends;
- Denial of feeling hungry; and
- Making a lot of comments about looking fat and feeling fat.

Some common physical warning signs of anorexia are:

- Obvious loss of weight;
- A general look of being unwell;
- Extreme sensitivity to cold;
- Inability to sleep;
- Growth of fine body hair;
- Constipation; and
- Problems with hair, skin and nails.

Some psychological signs of anorexia may include:

- Modd swings and irritability;
- Feeling they are not doing well, regardless of high achievement;
- Difficulty in concentrating;
- Suicidal thoughts; and
- Feeling very happy when losing weight and becoming very depressed if feeling that eating is out of control.

How can anorexia affect your health?

As previously mentioned, anorexia nervosa can affect your health in a number of ways. Mental health can be affected by way of depression, suicidal thoughts, and mood swings.

There are also serious physical repercussions for health and it is therefore imperative to seek treatment or to encourage the person you are concerned for to seek treatment as early as possible.

The effect of starving your body can cause:

- Low blood pressure which indicates that the starvation is affecting the heart muscle and increasing the risk of heart failure;
- All body organs are under excess strain;
- Dehydration resulting in kidney failure;
- Reduction in bone density, causing osteoporosis;
- General loss of muscle;
- Fainting and general lethargy;
- Low blood sugar that can lead to confusion, shakiness, and coma;
- Chemical imbalances that cause cramps, muscle spasms, and fits;
- Alopecia (hair loss); and
- Downy hair growth (lanugo) on the body and face to help the body to stay warm.

What are the causes of anorexia nervosa?

It is believed that the symptoms of anorexia nervosa are caused by 'starvation syndrome'. This syndrome is characterized by reduced blood circulation and chemical imbalances in the brain caused by continuous dieting. Many of the underlying causes are characteristic of other major eating disorders as well. It is particularly common for people with poor self esteem to fall victim to anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. It is believed that these feelings of low self esteem and poor body image may be the result of the chemical imbalance in the brain.
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