Anorexia Nervosa

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Young women are eight times more likely than men to develop a potentially fatal condition called anorexia, in part due to the emphasis we place on feminine beauty. Read up on this disorder and see if any of it sounds a little too familiar.

Anorexia: Starving to Death

Anorexia Nervosa, or anorexia for short, is a disease. It's not a dieting issue, as many people believe. Anorexia isn't a choice, it's an affliction. It primarily affects young women and teenage girls. However, it can also affect adult women, men and teenage boys. There's a connection between feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and a tendency to overachieve in people who suffer from anorexia (the most perfect girl in the world).

Self-starvation satisfies a need in anorexics that's hard for most of us to understand. Often, the anorexic feels out of control. Food intake is something she can control. She may feel pressure from friends and family to eat more, but that won't stop the destructive eating practices. In fact, it many instances, pressure to eat only strengthens the resolve of the anorexic to avoid food.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia

(Not All Symptoms Occur in All Cases)
  • An overly-thin body

  • Inability to perceive true appearance (distorted body image)

  • Irrational fear of gaining weight

  • Refusal to eat (often manifested as a refusal to eat with others present)

  • Overachiever personality

  • Excessive exercise

  • Lying about eating or exercising

  • Hording/hiding food

  • Infrequent or ceased menstrual periods

  • Denial of hunger

  • Extreme irritability

  • Fainting or dizzy spells

  • Loss of hair on head/presence of additional hair on face and body

Long-Term Health Dangers
  • Severe Malnutrition

  • Clinical Depression

  • Compromised Immune System

  • Gastro-Intestinal Damage

  • Heart Complications

  • Infertility

  • Death (singer Karen Carpenter was anorexic)

Anorexia cannot be cured without professional help. Sufferers need to be under the care of a mental health specialist, in conjunction with a dietician and a physician. Hospitalization is often required, along with long-term individual and family counseling.

If you know of someone who appears to be suffering from this disease, it's important that you not pass judgment. Be supportive, and by all means, assist her in finding the help she needs. It really is a matter of…life and death.