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What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an extremely complex eating disorder and is the most life threatening of all psychiatric disorders. It is caused by a combination of genetic/biological issues, environmental stress and various psychological problems – especially anxiety. The onset of Anorexia is typically around or just after puberty, but it can start from an earlier or even much later age.

People with anorexia will starve themselves to the point of emaciation, significantly compromising their health. All aspects of their lives become impaired including relationships, schooling and career, normal daily activities and the ability to enjoy life.

There are many factors that contribute to the onset of anorexia, but 9 out of 10 people with anorexia are female. The condition sometimes runs in families; it is more likely that someone will develop anorexia if she has a sibling or parent with the disorder. Other factors are psychological, environmental and social. This disorder may help the sufferer to numb painful emotions or feel in control over something in a life that is otherwise chaotic and out of control. Regardless of the factors and reasons, prolonged anorexia can destroy or even end a life.

Anorexia Diagnosis

One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, certain criteria must be present to determine if someone has anorexia. These conditions include:

  • Low body weight – if the individual is at 85% or less of what would be considered a normal body weight for her height and age, a problem is likely, especially if she refuses to gain weight.
  • Weight phobia – this is an extreme fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia are terrified of becoming fat, and usually even think they are fat when they are very underweight.
  • Body image issues – if a person has a negative body image and all she seems to care about is her weight it is usually accompanied by a denial of the seriousness of her low body weight.
  • Amenorrhea – this is the loss of the menstrual period. This condition is present when a female, who has already achieved puberty, quits menstruating for at least three months.

Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

Anorexia typically does not resolve on its own; professional care is usually required. Outpatient treatment is usually the first approach after the initial onset of the disorder. This treatment usually involves a team of providers, i.e. a therapist, dietitian, and physician/psychiatrist. If the eating disorder does not respond to outpatient treatment and/or if outpatient treatment reaches an impasse, inpatient or residential treatment would likely be indicated.

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