Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder which based on a terrifying
fear of becoming fat. But it is far more complex than a simple desire to lose weight.
What to look for
significant weight loss.
fear of becoming fat, even
excessive dieting and
distorted body image.
preoccupations, such as counting all calories or obsessively studying cookbooks.
dry, sallow skin.
increase in facial and body
loss of some head hair.
cessation of menstrual
suppression of sexual desire.
hands and feet cold at
normal room temperature.
bad school results, the
committing of anti-social behaviour - stealing, becoming noticeably withdrawn and
Anorexics starve themselves
as a result of the fear of gaining weight which results in major weight loss
addition to emaciation, under-nourishment, anaemia, irregular heartbeat, brittle bones, and
many other problems.
Anorexia is dangerous, and
professional help should be sought early on. Prompt treatment will usually keep the
condition from progressing, but some cases are very resistant to treatment and may require
Although its focus is on
food, anorexia is an illness of the mind. Often it begins with a relatively normal desire
to lose a few pounds. But it soon becomes compulsive. Food intake is gradually minimised
until eating is almost eliminated. The victim becomes obsessed with his/her body image and
frequently sees herself as fat even though she is not over weight.
Ironically, she ritualises
food preparation and consumption. She becomes obsessed with recipes and cooking yet will
not eat the food herself. She may alternate fasting with periodic bingeing and purging
(see Bulimia), particularly when she is trying to regain normal eating habits.
Anorexics tend to come from
families that have high standards of achievement, and they are often perfectionists,
compulsive in many aspects of their life, especially school.
Denial often accompanies
their intense focus on remaining thin. Anorexics will typically refuse to admit that
anything is wrong, and they become angry or defensive at expressions of concern by others.
While some studies indicate
that genes can play a predisposing role in anorexia, most researchers believe that
psychological factors are key.
Anorexics tend to have low
self-esteem and feel undeserving of love. In adolescence, such feelings may be reinforced
by sexual changes, fear of growing up, cultural messages that portray thin as beautiful,
and pressures or tensions within the family. Extreme fasting may be an anorexic's way of
attempting to exert control over her life.
Families should call for
medical assistance straight away in order to increase the weight to a safer level. Then
psychotherapy, regular medical monitoring, and nutritional guidance should be the other
part of any treatment program for anorexia.
Close cooperation among all
health professionals involved is important. All these professionals should be experienced
specifically in treating eating disorders.
Hospitalisation is usually
necessary if the patient has lost more than 25 percent of normal body weight. A system of
coaxing the patient to eat is usually set into place as the patient will avoid eating at
Psychotherapy is the main
treatment to attempt to unravel to causes of the individuals problems and difficulties.
Supplements of zinc sulfate
will aid any
zinc deficiencies. Other nutritional
supplements, appetite enhancers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs are often
prescribed as well.
Alternative therapies may
help with some of the symptoms of anorexia, and can serve as useful additions to
treatments that address nutrition and the emotional roots of the disorder. It is thought
that sufferers of this complaint, have zinc deficiencies and this may be worth getting
your doctor to look into.
When to seek further
If your child or person close
to you engages in any of the symptoms mentioned above it is vitally important that you
seek medical advice immediately.