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Anorexia Nervosa: Symptoms, Treatment  &  Pro Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa: What is it?

anorexia nervosaAnorexia nervosa is a very dangerous illness which usually occurs in teenage girls, but can occur in teenage boys, adult women and men. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a restriction of food and refusal to eat enough to maintain a minimal body weight. People with anorexia are obsessed with being fat, and appear to be terrified of gaining weight. Most anorexics lose weight by a restriction of food intake, excluding foods they perceive as high in fat or calories. Once the food restrictions become more of a disorder, the individual usually ends up with an extremely restricted diet, which is usually limited to a very small number of foods. Some individuals include vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse, insulin abuse and excessive exercise as additional methods for weight loss. Even though an individual with anorexia nervosa experiences weight loss, it does not seem to lessen their fear of gaining weight. The overall effect is that an anorexic experiences a body image distortion, with an overall feeling of being over-weight in spite of their obvious thinness.

Anorexia nervosa: What are the signs and symptoms?

The most obvious signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa is an apparent obsession with excessive measures to continue weigh loss, and a self-perception of being fat when a person is obviously too thin. Usually there is a deliberate self-starvation and continued weight loss, along with an intense fear of gaining weight. Anorexics refuse to eat and frequently deny their hunger, and often times exercise excessively. Many anorexics have greater amounts of hair on the face and body and a loss of scalp hair. Frequently they have a sensitivity to cold temperatures and absent or irregular periods.


What are some of the medical complications of anorexia nervosa?

People with anorexia may have dry skin and thinning hair on their head. They also may have a growth of fine hair all over their body. They usually have a tendency to feel cold all of the time, along with frequent illnesses. They may frequently experience bad moods and have a hard time concentrating. Girls with anorexia usually stop having menstrual periods. Additional medical complications have been reported to include emaciation, bradycardia, hypotension, hypothermia, impaired renal functioning and gastrointestinal problems. Individuals with severe anorexia may experience death by starvation.

Is there treatment available for anorexia nervosa?

Treatment for anorexia nervosa is frequently very difficult as most anorexics believe there is nothing wrong with them. Individuals in the early stages of anorexia (less than six months or with a very limited amount of weight loss) may be treated on an outpatient basis. In order to have successful treatment however, patients must be willing to change and have the support of family and friends. Treatment involves much more than just changing an individual’s eating habits. More serious cases may require hospitalization. The sooner these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis for recovery. Because of the complexity of issues involved, including psychological factors, social issues and medical concerns, proper treatment requires a comprehensive treatment plan including medical care, psychosocial interventions, nutritional counseling and possible medication management. It is always important at the time of diagnosis for the clinician to determine whether the person is in immediate danger requiring hospitalization, or would be able to be treated on an outpatient basis.

What is “pro anorexia” and my commentary as a Licensed Psychologist?

Recently there has evolved a significant controversy related to what has been defined as a “pro anorexia” movement. Some individuals feel that it is their right to choose between eating and not eating in spite of “well-intentioned” friends, family member’s and associate’s concerns about their health. Pro anorexia web-sites seem to be an attempt to assert one’s rights to choose lifestyles and goals in spite of societal restrictions and condemnation. If that was the extent of the concern, I believe more people would be much more supportive. However, as a psychologist who frequently has seen people with distorted perceptions (which they rigidly adhere to) causing seriously destructive consequences on themselves and others ( example: paranoid, or depressed individuals who wish to die), I would have to concur with any opinion which seeks to help an individual have a less distorted perspective, and allow them to have a healthy life without self-inflicting potentially fatal consequences. Starvation eventually leads to death, whether it is imposed upon an individual or “self-imposed“.

Information and webpage by Paul Susic  Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist  Candidate  (Health and Geriatric Psychologist)

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