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Anorexia nervosa (anorexia) is an extremely serious life threatening eating disorder.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Only a program of psychological treatment has been clinically proven to reduce its severity and duration.

Starting during adolescence (median age of 17), young people with anorexia are scared of putting on weight. They will severely restrict their energy intake and struggle to maintain a normal healthy weight. Anorexics have a distorted self-perception, often thinking or feeling fat in spite of being dangerously thin. Without successful treatment, the condition will last many years. The earlier that anorexia is treated, the higher the success-rate of recovery. Approximately one in 100 adolescent girls develops anorexia nervosa.

It is thought that Anorexia is caused by a combination of the genetic predisposition of the young person, along with their environmental circumstance and multiple social and cultural factors. Based on international data, anorexia occurs in between 0.3 per cent and 1.5 per cent in girls and between 0.1 per cent and 0.5 per cent in boys. The restriction of their weight in sufferers may be a way of exerting control, which they feel they lack in other areas of their life. Alternatively, sufferers may be expressing emotions that are too painful to let out. Cultural pressures to conform to some perfect body image also contribute to this mental health issue.

Symptoms of anorexia may include but are not limited to:

Physical symptoms

  • Rapid weight changes – mainly loss
  • Lethargy and lack of energy
  • Feeling dizzy or actually fainting
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Facial changes (e.g. looking pale, sunken eyes)
  • Fine hair appearing on face and body
  • Disturbed menstrual cycle in girls and women
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Feeling cold all the time caused by low fat levels and poor circulation
  • May feel bloated and/or constipated
  • The development of certain food intolerances

Psychological symptoms

  • Obsession with food, weight and body shape
  • Extreme body image dissatisfaction or distorted body image
  • Fear of weight gain and ‘black and white’ thinking about food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • Anxious around meal times with increased sensitivity to comments relating to diet, exercise, weight, body shape
  • Anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and perfectionism
  • Abnormal body weight for their age and height
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g. eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at exactly the same time everyday)
  • Preoccupation with preparing food for others, recipes and nutrition
  • Self harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts

If your teenager is suffering from rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes, seems obsessed with their body shape, diet and weight, then you should seek psychological help.

In today’s image-focussed world, eating disorders are increasing at an alarming rate. Eating disorders are a mental illness that affects people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures.

Anorexia mainly affects women, with adolescents and young women most commonly affected.

Anorexia Nervosa is the severe restriction of food and is characterised by obsessive thoughts about food, dieting and exercise. Anorexia can lead to extreme weight loss, malnutrition, health complications and in extreme cases starvation and death.

Eating disorders are often found in connection with instances of low self-esteem, negative body image, depression, and anxiety. Sometimes a person suffering from anorexia controls their food intake as a way of compensating for a perceived lack of control in other areas of their life. Sometimes anorexia masks feelings of pain, anxiety or depression.

There are two main types of anorexia. The restricting type where a person severely restricts their food intake, and the binge-eating or purging type: where a person restricts their food intake but also engages in binge-eating or purging behaviour such as self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives and sometimes excessive exercise.

If you suffer from anorexia, it is vital to seek professional help. An experienced psychologist can support you through the recovery process to relearn your approach to food and understand the reasons for your behaviour. With the right help, you can recover.

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