Anorexia Nervosa is one of the deadliest psychological disorders. Without treatment, one in five sufferers will die. Ninety percent of anorexics are female, mostly in their teens. In countries with high economic status, approximately one out of every 100 adolescent girls has anorexia.
What is the personality type of an anorexic? Anorexics tend to be perfectionists and high achieving. Although they may excel in their studies or activities, they rarely acknowledge their merits and are constantly plagued by fear and doubt. Self-confidence and self-esteem tend to be quite low and fragile in people with anorexia. Dieting becomes a tool used to gain control over one’s life. Since high achievers tend to complete tasks to the very best of their abilities, anorexics take dieting to the extreme. It’s the only way they derive self-worth and a sense of relief.
Anorexia is primarily a psychological disorder. It is an unhealthy coping mechanism that some individuals use to face stressors in their lives. It helps them derive a sense of control in their lives and manage their fears. Many anorexics are diagnosed with the major depressive disorder and/or obsessional compulsive disorder. The obsession with dieting and thinness is a manifestation of these disorders. When they restrict their food intake or exercise excessively, they get a high which they become addicted to. They feel as if they are accomplishing something great with the less food they eat.
A person with anorexia tends to become depressed, if he/she wasn’t already, lack focus and concentration and have disturbed sleep patterns. They become addicted to certain activities such as counting calories and become masters in deception. They may also develop addictions to other things such as drugs, alcohol, smoking or shopping. Left to their own devices, they will engage in self-destructive patterns. That is why it is usually family members who seek help for the anorexic individual as the anorexic refuses to see there is a problem.
There have been many speculations as to the causes of anorexia. It has been suggested that there could be a genetic factor which predisposes one to develop anorexia. Negative life events could trigger the onset of the disorder. Other evidence claims that the hypothalamus in the brain which regulates metabolic processes is dysfunctional in people with anorexia. Imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain could also be a factor. As well as this, maternal depression has been linked to children developing anorexia.
As stated before, anorexia has a high mortality rate, estimated at 6 percent. With the appropriate treatment, however, approximately fifty percent of sufferers make a full recovery. Many may experience relapses and fluctuating patterns of weight gain. About 20 percent of people with anorexia never recover.
When someone is diagnosed as anorexic, the first thing to do is ensure that they gain weight. Before dealing with the psychological problems and negative emotional experiences that the person may have suffered, it is essential that the person returns to a relatively normal weight. Hospitalization and tube feeding may be necessary. The next stage would be therapy. Different forms of therapy such as individual, group, family or cognitive behavioural therapy have all been proven to be effective. The Maudsley model of family therapy has been found to be the most successful treatment for anorexics in which each family member is actively involved in the recovery process. It is essential to tackle issues of control, perfectionism, self-perception and the negative beliefs anorexics have about food. Educating people with anorexia about the negative effects of the media is also important. The media glamourizes thinness and excessive dieting. Being model thin should not be an aspiration. Although anorexics can be very difficult to deal with, stubborn and deviously deceptive, it is important not to give up on them and leave them to their anorexia. The recovery is a continuous process which may last months, years or even a lifetime. Yet without help the disorder will take over their lives. One must learn to be patient and persevere in breaking the deadly addiction the adolescent has to anorexia nervosa.
1. The refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (maintaining a body weight less than 85% of the expected weight)
2. An intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though the person is underweight
3. Self-perception that is grossly distorted, excessive emphasis on body weight in self-assessment, and weight loss that is either minimized or not acknowledged completely
4. In women who have already begun their menstrual cycle, at least three consecutive periods are missed (amenorrhea), or menstrual periods occur only after a hormone is administered.
Edwards, D., R., Shiel, C., W., & Stoppler, C., M. (5/8/2012). Anorexia Nervosa. Medicine Net. Retrieved August 25, 2013, from http://www.onhealth.com/anorexia_nervosa/article.htm
ReaIDocumentaries. (May 8, 2013). I’m A Child Anorexic (BBC Documentary). Retrieved August 25, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7qrHxnUrJ0
Image Credit: Tudor Vieru. (November 23, 2011). Anorexia Patients Don’t Really Know Themselves. Softpedia. Retrieved August, 25, 2013, from http://news.softpedia.com/news/Anorexia-Patients-Don-t-Really-Know-Themselves-236246.shtml