Anorexia Nervosa

What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and psychological condition marked by extreme self-starvation due to a distorted body image. People with anorexia think they are fat, regardless of how much they weigh, and are obsessive about monitoring their weight and the food they consume. They may regularly refuse to eat or eat only minimal amounts of food. In spite of the severe health risks associated with being severely underweight, those with anorexia refuse to see it as a problem. Anorexia is closely linked to perfectionism and depression, and those with the condition can and do starve themselves to death. Although young women account for most cases, anorexia can affect anyone, at any age. In the United States, an estimated 0.9 percent of females and 0.3 percent of males suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime. Those at greatest risk are 15- to 19-year-old girls, according to national epidemiology surveys.

Developing and Treating Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders are commonly found in cultures and settings where "being thin" is seen as desirable. Stressful life events can play a role in triggering the disorder, as can temperamental factors such as perfectionism and obsessional traits. Biology and heredity seem to contribute to vulnerability as well. Anorexia is often accompanied by problems with fertility among women. Counseling and therapy, coupled with medical attention to health and nutritional needs, are important aspects of treatment. Treating anorexia involves three main goals: restoring weight lost to severe dieting and purging, treating psychological disturbances associated with body image distortions, and achieving long-term remission and rehabilitation or a full recovery.

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