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Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an illness of obsessive self-starvation characterized by: refusal to maintain a minimally normal weight; intense fear of weight gain or being "fat," even when underweight; and distorted perception of the body or denial of the seriousness of the effects of extreme weight loss.

Among its unique aspects:

  • Has the highest mortality risk of any psychiatric disorder; long-term follow-up studies show an average mortality resulting from complications of the illness of roughly 5-6%
  • Typically appears between 12 and 17 years of age, but occurrences in youger children are well-documented
  • Very high rates of reduced bone density and osteoporosis, even among teens and young adults
  • Frequently persists into adulthood
  • Emotional state changes dramatically as eating worsens
  • Affects an estimated one out of every 250 girls in the general population
  • Approximately 90% of anorexia nervosa patients are female

Risk factors:

  • History of extreme perfectionism
  • History of tendency to worry or general anxiety
  • High regimentation and marked discomfort with change and transition
  • Self-doubt and low self-esteem
  • Reluctance to express feelings

Warning signs:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Increasing rigidity of the diet
  • Preoccupation with weight, food or counting calories
  • Wearing multiple layers of clothing
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise
  • Multiple excuses for not eating, and changes in meal-time behavior such as picking at food, slow eating, cutting food into small pieces
  • Preoccupation with feeding others or with meal preparation
  • Visiting pro-anorexia websites
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