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 is among the most deadly of all mental illnesses.
The frightening truth about anorexia
Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight caused by malnourishment. A person struggling with anorexia 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 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 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 warning signs
People with anorexia 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 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 are below normal weight standards. Atypical anorexia (a diagnosis that falls under OSFED) is when all criteria of anorexia are met, except the individual is not medically classified as “underweight.”
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.
Read more about the physical effects of anorexia here.