Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

In our diet-obsessed culture, some women and teenage girls are more than fashionably slim. They are methodically starving themselves, sometimes to death. These women and girls often think they are too fat, even when they may be dangerously underweight. These people suffer from anorexia nervosa, a condition in which dieting continues even after a weight loss of 25 percent or more of normal weight.

Who Gets Anorexia Nervosa

Anyone can suffer from anorexia nervosa, but the vast majority of anorectics are females who became anorectic in their teens. These women and girls are often high achievers who are obedient, highly academic, well-liked and athletic. The anorectic behavior may be an attempt to gain control of their bodies in a world where they may feel they have no other control. No one knows for sure what triggers anorexia, but personality type, early childhood trauma such as sexual abuse, and pressures to perform may be factors. Society’s standards of slimness certainly play ~ role

The Course of Anorexia

Someone who suffers from anorexia may begin by skipping meals or eating extremely small portions of low calorie food. She may begin exercising more and more and attempting to sleep less to work off the calories she consumes. Always hungry, she may lose control of her appetite and induce vomiting or abuse laxatives to avoid absorbing the calories of the food she eats. But no matter how much weight they lose, people with anorexia see a body that is too fat when they look in the mirror.

What Starvation Does

When the body doesn’t get enough fuel over a period of time, tissues begin to break down. Common symptoms of anorexia are irregular or missed menstrual cycles, cold intolerance, low blood pressure, heart irregularities, abdominal pain and water retention. The long-term effects include brittle bones and liver and kidney failure. Death is possible if the anorexia is not brought under control. Repeated, forced vomiting can also lead to seizures, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat and even death.

Can Anorexia Be Prevented?

Most psychologists recommend that parents set an example of good eating patterns for their children by avoiding chronic dieting and obsession with their own weight. Serve meals and snacks at regular times and allow children to select the type and quantity of food they want. Avoid struggles over food or discussions of the child’s weight problems. Let children know that they don’t have to earn parental love.

Get professional help if you suspect your child is becoming anorectic. Don’t worry about whose “fault” anorexia is; most likely a combination of factors are involved. Early intervention – including therapy and diet counseling – is crucial.

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