The exact cause of anorexia nervosa – an eating disorder that predominantly affects women – is not known. Biological ,psychological and even environmental – Western culture's unhealthy obsession withbeing thin – factors all have their own camps and adherents. Likely it is some combination of the three.
Whatever the cause, the hallmark of someone suffering from anorexia is an abnormally low bodyweight. Those afflicted will unhealthily restrict the amount of food they eat, sometimes even self-inducing vomiting or misusing laxatives, enemas or diuretics.
Doctors do agree that anorexia is not really about diet or food, but an approach to emotional problems. The afflicted equates thinness with self-worth.
Physically, the symptoms of anorexia are the same as those for starvation: extreme low weigh, fatigue, insomnia, constipation, dehydration, intolerance of cold, etc. More telling, however, are the behavioral symptoms, which include:
- Preoccupation with food
- Refusal to eat
- Denial of hunger
- Fear of gaining weight
- Lying about how much food has been eaten
- Lack of emotion
- Social withdrawal
- Reduced interest in sex
- Depressed mood
- Thoughts of suicide
As is the case with many behavior disorders, those suffering from the sickness may not be in a position to recognize they have a problem, and it falls to family and close associates to intervene. If you suspect someone close to you may be suffering from anorexia, look for these tell-tale signs:
- Skipping meals
- Making excuses for not eating
- Eating only a few certain "safe" foods, usually those low in fat and calories
- Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as spitting food out after chewing
- Cooking elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat
- Repeated weighing or measuring of themselves
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
- Complaining about being fat
- Not wanting to eat in public
- Calluses on the knuckles and eroded teeth if inducing vomiting
- Covering up in layers of clothing
Anorexia affects young women predominantly, although more and more young men are developing eating disorders. This may add some credence to the theory that anorexia and similar disorders are a product of culture and environment.
It is important to understand that anorexia can be fatal, and not just through the unlikely instance of slow starvation. Abnormal heart rhythms or imbalanced electrolytes, both by-products of being severely underweight, can bring death on in an instant.
If you believe that you or someone you care about is suffering from anorexia nervosa, see a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible.
Sources: The Mayo Clinic