Anorexia Nervosa is generally considered a psychological
(or "mental") illness
... but is also included in our list of "Digestive
Disorders" in consideration of some courses that require knowledge
of anorexia nervosa as part of "food and digestion"
study units ...
It is an extreme, obsessive, desire to lose weight that a person acts
on - potentially to the point of starvation.
The most common occurrence of anorexia nervosa is
in Western ("First World"; wealthy) countries among female
adolescents, typically teenagers - through to early twenties. Some men
are also be affected, though less commonly.
Causes of anorexia nervosa:
As applies to many psychological
conditions, identifying the root cause of any particular case of
anorexia nervosa is extremely difficult.
Individuals affected by this condition tend to be highly motivated
and are often also highly intelligent and well able to disguise
their efforts to lose weight excessively.
Possible "causes" listed by many sources include:
- Motivation to lose excessive weight due to false perception
of own body weight/shape as "fat" and generally unattractive.
of becoming overweight (i.e. in their view "unattractive").
- Self-hatred, or (milder, though still extreme) dislike of oneself,
or some aspect of the self
- Family / relationship issues
- Rejection of adult sexuality.
Symptoms & Effects of anorexia nervosa:
- Starving oneself -
possibly using a wide range of techniques,
* avoiding eating, e.g. pretending had already eaten (elsewhere),
* self-induced vomiting to prevent digestion
of food stuffs,
* excessive use of laxatives
to minimise digestion of food stuffs.
This can lead to multiple adverse effects, including:
- Severe weight loss
- Amenorrhoea (in females)
- Death by starvation.
Medical Treatments for anorexia nervosa generally
focus on persuading the patient to consume sufficient food to maintain
health and a normal body weight. Ideally techniques involve reasoning
and persuasion, e.g. discussing what a healthy weight is - and the weight
below which health is adversely affected (for a person of the patient's
own height, age, and gender). General education about diet, nutrition
and exercise may also be helpful. Psychotherapy may be used to address
related conditions, e.g. any emotional disturbances underlying the person's
In extreme cases, and especially if the person is legally a "child"
and so in many countries unable to legally refuse treatment, residential
care may be recommended. Special facilities in which all forms of treatment
considered appropriate exist at the same location and the person is
under constant supervision and his/her intake of food and beverages
monitored may be used. Such facilities may use a wide range of techniques,
from gentle persuasion to force-feeding.
Anorexia Nervosa is widely recognised as an extremely
distressing condition - not only for those affected but also for their
friends and families, for others (underweight individuals) incorrectly
labeled as "anorexics", and for everyone involved in any form
of unwanted "treatment".
However well-intended treatment may be, it is difficult to imagine the
additional distress caused by the isolation felt by a person as a result
of not being trusted by others, of negative labeling, and possibly even
the perception of incarceration called "residential care".
It is also difficult to imagine how anorexia nervosa
(or even just diagnosis or suspicion of this) as a young person might
affect someone later in his/her life.