Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an irrational dread of becoming fat coupled with a relentless pursuit of thinness. People with anorexia go to extremes¬ to reach and maintain a dangerously low body weight. But no matter how much weight is lost, no matter how emaciated they become, it’s never enough. The more the scale dips, the more obsessed they become with food, dieting, and weight loss.
The key features of anorexia nervosa are:
• Refusal to sustain a minimally normal body weight
• Intense fear of gaining weight, despite being underweight
• Distorted view of one’s body or weight, or denial of the dangers of one’s low weight
There are two types of anorexia. In the restricting type, weight loss is achieved by restricting calories. Restricting anorexics follow drastic diets, go on fasts, and exercise to excess. In the purging type, people get rid of calories they’ve consumed by vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics.
Anorexia is most common in adolescent girls and young women, with a typical age of onset between the ages of 13 and 20. But people of all ages¬—including men and children—can suffer from anorexia.
Anorexia causes and risk factors
Major risk factors for anorexia nervosa
• Body dissatisfaction
• Low self-esteem
• Childhood sexual abuse
• Family history of eating disorders
What sets someone on a course toward self-starvation? It’s easy to blame a culture that equates slenderness with beauty and success and portrays stick-thin women as the physical ideal, but eating disorders have been around for centuries.
Although our culture’s idealization of thinness plays a powerful role in the development of anorexia, there are other contributing factors, including genetics, individual personality traits, and family environment.
Biological causes of anorexia
Research suggests that a genetic predisposition to anorexia may run in families. If a girl has a sibling with anorexia, she is 10 to 20 times more likely...