Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by total aversion to food. It is a serious psychological disorder and goes well beyond out-of-control dieting. Most often a girl or young woman initially begins dieting to lose weight. Over time, the weight loss becomes a sign of mastery and control. The drive to become thinner is thought to be due to concerns about control and fears relating to one’s body. The individual continues the endless cycle of restrictive eating, often to a point close to starvation. This becomes an obsession and can be a life-threatening condition.
Anorexia nervosa literally means loss of appetite in the presence of anxiety. However this is not the case. A person with
anorexia nervosa is hungry, but he or she denies the hunger because of an irrational fear of becoming fat. While this disorder
can occur in either sex, women constitute 95% of cases. Of all eating disorders reported, only about 1% fulfill the criteria for
anorexia nervosa. There are two types: restricting and binge eating/purging. The latter must be distinguished from bulimia
nervosa and the distinction is that in anorexia nervosa weight loss is at least 15% of what one would expect from height and
Anorexia nervosa is often characterized by self-starvation, food preoccupation and rituals, compulsive exercising, and in
women often an absence of menstrual cycles. Untreated, anorexia nervosa can be fatal. It is not a "fad" which the victim will
outgrow if left alone.
30% of cases last from one to five years, 31% from six to ten years and 16% from 11 to 16 years. About six percent die
from the disorder and only 50% ever fully recover. The most common cause of death is low serum potassium (called
"hypokalemia"), which can cause an irregular heartbeat. Probably the most well known person to die of this disorder in
modern times was the singer Karen Carpenter who died in the early 1970s at the age of 31.
The best type of doctor to see for a case of anorexia is a compassionate physician who practices nutritional medicine.
Nutritional deprivation is the major threat to life in anorexia nervosa and only a compassionate physician can communicate
with these patients. The communication which is necessary is nothing less than a new reality for the patient in which body
size, composition, and weight have nothing to do with who the patient is, and do not determine her worth. The patient must
also be persuaded to respond appropriately to her own sense of hunger, to love her body and herself.