Anorexia nervosa is a psychological illness with often devastating physical consequences. The sufferer usually has a morbid fear of weight gain and becoming fat, although this is not the case for all anorectics. Those suffering from anorexia will deprive themselves of food (and sometimes liquids), leading to weight loss and, usually, a variety of physical problems and health issues.
Like other eating disorders, anorexia is a mask covering other underlying problems. The sufferer tends to have low self-esteem and a need to control aspects of their environment. Anorexia is used as a way to cope with stress anxiety and feeling out of control.
Eating disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia, usually affect females but the number of male anorectics is on the increase. Somebody can develop anorexia at any age, in any place and in any situation.
Diagnostic criteria (DSM IV)
- Refusal to maintain body weight over a minimum normal weight for age and height (i.e. weight loss leading to body weight 15% below that expected… or… failure to make expected weight gain during a period of growth, leading to a body weight 15% below that expected.)
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though underweight.
- Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight, size or shape is experienced, undue influence of body shape and weight on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of low body weight.
- In females, absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles when otherwise expected to occur (primary or secondary amenorrhea).
Physical signs and symptoms
There are many physical symptoms associated with anorexia, some of which become more severe the longer the disorder remains untreated. Most sufferers will encounter health problems sooner rather than later. These problems include:
- Muscle and cartilage deterioration
- Irregular or slow heart beat
- Heart failure