Anorexia nervosa is a condition where the sufferer has an extreme fear of gaining weight or becoming what they perceive to be fat, this is usually coupled with the anorectic having a distorted picture of her own body.

This fear of weight gain, and distorted body image is caused by and covers other underlying problems:

Continued weight loss is considered by anorectics to be a sign of achievement and self-discipline, while any weight gain, even if it brings them closer to a healthy body weight, is considered a sign of weakness or a lack of self-control.

One thing that all anorectics have in common is low self-esteem, even if this is not always obvious. This low self-esteem can quickly lead to a negative self-image.

Eating disorders often start out as just a diet, a way to try to regain some self-esteem and control. The sufferer may feel as though their life is, or has been, out of control and that this control can somehow be rediscovered by regulating their food and weight. Sufferers of all types of eating disorder tend to feel like their life is uncontrolled and chaotic, but the method of attempting to regain control varies according to the illness the person is suffering from. Anorectics try to regain control by denying themselves food, whereas bulimics purge their body of food in order to re-establish some control, even if only for a temporary period of time.

Anorexic Personality: Someone who may develop anorexia nervosa is typically an introverted, conscientious and well-behaved child who seldom present problems either at home or at school. The 2 personality traits consistently found amongst those with anorexia are perfectionism and obsessive behaviour. It is when these last two are combined with a general dissatisfaction with life, or life presents an individual with events which they feel unable to cope with, that anorexia nervosa becomes a viable alternative. It may be seen as a coping mechanism.

All eating disorders have a diagnostic criteria that a person must usually meet before a doctor will make a diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa are:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight, which does not diminish as weight loss progresses
  • Disturbance of body image, for example claiming to be fat even when emaciated
  • Significant amount of weight loss (at least 15% of normal body weight)
  • No known physical illness that would account for the weight loss
  • In females, amenorrhea for at least 3 consecutive months
  • Symptoms and signs:

  • Weight loss
  • Refusal to eat, or excuses for missing meals
  • Avoiding any social gatherings involving meals
  • Wanting to lose weight when normal weight or under weight
  • Wearing baggy clothes to disguise weight loss
  • Odd oral habits, e.g. chewing gum throughout the day, drinking an excessive amount of coffee or diet soda, and chain-smoking
  • Intense fear of eating
  • Obsession about food or calories, and sometimes a huge interest in shopping and preparing food for others
  • Excessive exercise
  • Sleeping problems
  • Period problems, or absence
  • Growth of fine downy hair (lanugo) all over body
  • Constipation and abdominal pains
  • Always feeling cold
  • Poor circulation
  • Very bright eyes
  • Depression
  • Reduced libido
  • Fainting and dizzy spells
  • Behaviour may also change, including:

  • Moodiness, depression, hyperactive behaviour, short concentration span, stubbornness
  • If someone meets the psychological diagnostic criteria for anorexia, but only some or none of the physical ones, they may be diagnosed as having 'Eating disorder not otherwise specified'.

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