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Anorexia Nervosa

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 health risks associated with being severely underweight, those with anorexia cannot see it as a problem. Yet those with the condition can and do starve themselves to death.

Anorexia is closely linked to perfectionism, depression, and suicidality. Although young women account for most cases, anorexia can affect anyone, at any time. But treatment can help individuals suffering from eating disorders make a lasting recovery.

For more on causes, symptoms and treatments, see our Diagnosis Dictionary.

What Are the Signs of Anorexia?

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Identifying eating disorders as early as possible is critical, because it raises the chance of a successful recovery. Although young women account for many cases of anorexia, the disorder can strike anyone, of any gender, race, or age. Symptoms encompass an altered relationship to food, weight, and exercise, whether that be severe weight loss, seemingly peculiar food choices, or an intense exercise regimen.

How can you tell if someone has anorexia?

Warning signs of anorexia include rapid weight loss, an obsession with weight, food, or dieting, developing rituals and rules about when and what foods can be eaten, excessive exercise, eating alone and broader social withdrawal, and physical symptoms such as stomach pain, constipation, or exhaustion.

Who is likely to develop anorexia?

Women are three times more likely to experience anorexia in their lifetime than men. Older women also face eating disorders, and ethnic minority women and White women suffer from eating disorders at equal rates, research shows. Understanding who develops eating disorders can help people suffering come forward and help clinicians to recognize and treat the condition.

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What Causes Anorexia?

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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, as individuals are more likely to develop the disorder if another family member has experienced it.

Why do people become anorexic?

Anorexia emerges due to genetics, personality traits, and environmental factors. An individual is more likely to develop it if a family member has the disorder, showing its genetic underpinnings, while environmental influences such as stressful transitions and beauty ideals also contribute. Traits linked to anorexia include perfectionism, obsessiveness, and anxiety.

Is it possible to prevent anorexia?

Anorexia cannot be definitively prevented, yet taking note of early warning signs can help. If someone struggles with self-esteem or body image, or begins a stringent diet, they may be on the cusp of developing an eating disorder. Discussing their emotions, providing support, and offering treatment options may prevent the condition from progressing.

How Is Anorexia Treated?

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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.

What’s the best way to treat anorexia?

Psychotherapy is the first-line treatment for anorexia. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and specifically enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-E) involves recognizing and changing distorted beliefs that one has about eating and body image in order to ultimately develop normal eating patterns and arrive at a healthy weight. Family therapy is also widely used, as parental support is a key component of treatment and recovery for adolescents.

Do any medications treat anorexia?

No medications specifically treat anorexia, but drugs may be prescribed to combat co-occurring problems such as depression and anxiety. Some drugs prompt weight gain, but none are currently approved to treat anorexia because patients rarely participate in these clinical trials and likely wouldn’t take medication without therapy to address underlying beliefs about body image.

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