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In Latin, the name of the condition anorexia nervosa means “loss of appetite.” Anorexia usually begins during puberty. Nine out of ten people with anorexia are women and one in one-hundred U.S. women are anorexic. Anorexia nervosa is one of many eating disorders. This disease has symptoms including severe restriction of food and excessive exercise. People who have this disease have a distorted body image believing they are fat, when in reality they are extremely thin. Medical experts are not sure what causes this disease, but they believe it may be due to social factors, family history, and personality traits. People affected by this disorder will show symptoms of significant weight loss, refusal of food, and denial of normal hunger signals. Eventually they will have hair loss, tooth decay, lethargy, and a woman’s menstrual cycle will be irregular, or may not be present at all. If this disease is left untreated, it can lead to starvation and secondary related diseases like osteoporosis, kidney damage and heart problems. When treating this disease one needs to consult not just a physical doctor, but also a psychiatrist or psychologist. Anorexia nervosa is not just about eating. It is about the relationship between food, nutrition, and emotional issues in a person’s life.
People afflicted with anorexia nervosa relate being thin with their self-worth. This is partly due to media hype that being thin and beautiful are desirable attributes in today’s society. Present culture relates being thin to success, happiness and a lifestyle of having it all. A look at all of the weight-loss commercials and gimmicks gives one insight on this culture. Before and after pictures of “fat” versus “thin” celebrities imply that life is much better since they are thin. Although it is true that being overweight is a significant health risk, being underweight and starving your body is equally as detrimental to body systems. Both of them can lead to severe disease and death, if not treated. It is very easy to say that all people need to find a good balance of exercise, proper nutrition to nourish one’s body, and have strong emotional health. In reality, everyone has emotional baggage that is carried around day in and day out. This baggage adversely affects the normal response that patients afflicted with anorexia nervosa have toward food.
This disease is not like a cancerous growth that can be removed with surgery. This disorder demonstrates how one’s mind can negatively affect his or her physical body. Anorexia nervosa can be triggered by genetics, family issues, or psychological issues. This leads to dissatisfaction with one’s weight and body shape or contour. The relationship between dieting, weight loss, and associated positive reinforcement validates a person’s self-worth. Over time, weight loss and its positive social connotations, leads to a reaction from others about a person’s weight loss. This makes a person with anorexia feel empowered and in control. Anorexia nervosa is a disease in which successful treatment depends on intense family support as well as medical and psychological help.
1. WebMD Medical Reference: Halmi, K. in Yudofsky (ed.), Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry, 4th edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, 2003. Brewerton, T. Clinical Handbook of Eating Disorders: An Integrated Approach-Edition 1, Marcel Dekker, Inc, 2004.
2. Cohen, Barbara J., Memmler’s The Human Body in Health and Disease: 11th ed. / Barbara Janson Cohen, Jason James Taylor., Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009.