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Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals with the disorder are driven to maintain a dangerously low body weight because of an intense fear of getting fat and a distorted body image. They stay underweight by eating sparsely and infrequently, as well as purging—voiding food by induced vomiting or laxative use—as well as exercising intensely, often without recognizing their actions are unhealthy or their body images are not normal.

Potential candidates for anorexia are athletes, perfectionists and overachievers—making it difficult to detect because they are often successful in school and popular with peers. Usually revealed during adolescence, anorexia is overwhelmingly diagnosed among females. Though 1 in 10 are male, the actual prevalence could be higher as symptoms of starvation in young men are less obvious. 

Unconsciously, especially in cases of trauma or sexual abuse, young people with anorexia may not want to bring attention to themselves, preferring instead to “disappear” or be unseen. Research confirms a correlation between sexual trauma and anorexia, agoraphobia and body dysmorphia. Those who were sexually abused may want to remain juvenile looking, so as not to appear desirable.

Anorexia can cause severe or life-threatening physical health problems, resulting in a medical emergency—and may require hospitalization.

Signs of anorexia

  • Losing weight unexpectedly and/or being dangerously thin. Even then, they don’t perceive a health problem and want to lose more weight.
  • Obsessing over calorie counts, nutritional facts, diets
  • Spending many hours exercising to burn off calories
  • Skipping meals
  • Avoiding eating socially
  • Irregular periods, thinning hair, constant exhaustion

Atypical anorexia nervosa 

This eating disorder is more recently accepted as a mental health disorder. Individuals meet the qualifications for anorexia nervosa, including a body image disturbance and a history of restrictive eating and weight loss, except they are not currently underweight. The characteristics of those with atypical anorexia generally do not differ significantly from those with anorexia nervosa patients, except for their current weight. Unfortunately, individuals with atypical anorexia are frequently misdiagnosed, not diagnosed and subject to discrimination and stigma by both the medical establishment and society.


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