Anorexia nervosa twists perception. It convinces people to see themselves as overweight, even when they are starved or malnourished. Eating, food, and weight control become obsessions. Tragically, anorexia nervosa is among the most deadly of all mental illnesses.
The Frightening Truth About Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight caused by malnourishment. A person struggling with anorexia nervosa often has a distorted perception of their weight and an intense fear of gaining weight. Although diet programs may be the “gateway” to the condition, the diet itself is not responsible for the onset of an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is not a choice, a fad, or a phase. It’s a painful internal emotion of fear associated both with food and with the perception of one’s own body.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with anorexia nervosa are up to ten times more likely to die as a result of their illness compared to those without the condition. Complications from starvation, such as cardiac arrest, organ failure, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, and suicide claim the lives of adolescents and adults every year.
Anorexia Nervosa Warning Signs
People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat small quantities of a narrow variety of foods. Anxiety, depression, or difficulty concentrating may also accompany these warning signs:
- Relentless pursuit of thinness
- Unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
- Extremely disturbed eating behavior
- Distortion of body image
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Misuse of diuretics, diet pills, or laxatives
Anorexia nervosa can start as early as age 8 and as late as middle age, but its onset is most common around or just after puberty. Adults are likely to experience a dramatic drop in weight, while adolescents or children may fail to gain weight and slip from their expected weight-growth pattern. By definition, individuals with anorexia nervosa are below normal weight standards.
Females often experience either a delay in starting menstruation or a loss of menstrual functioning (amenorrhea). Other medical conditions may also be present, such as anemia, dry skin and scalp, osteoporosis, lowered body temperature and blue fingertips, and slow thinking due to brain shrinkage.
Everything in the person’s regular daily life suffers as the condition controls thoughts and behaviors. Family ties, friendships, romantic relationships, schoolwork or career—they’re all jeopardized by the condition. The joy of life wilts under its stress.