What is anorexia and how is it treated?


If you pick up any celebrity magazine on the newsstand today, you will more than likely read an article about a young actress who is suffering from anorexia or, at the very least, being accused of being anorexic.

In a day and age where thin is considered to be beautiful and jutting bones have somehow become sexy, women and men around the world have struggled to become as thin as those musicians and celebrities they admire. Unfortunately, for most, this desire can become unhealthy, and in some cases, deadly.

Anorexia is an eating disorder. In a nutshell, it is a disease where both men and women starve themselves thin. It is very similar to bulimia in the sense that those who suffer from this disorder are convinced they are overweight and go to extreme measures to control their weight, including taking laxatives and extreme exercising.

However, the difference is that those suffering from bulimia will binge and purge, while anorexics simply starve themselves. Anorexics have an intense desire not to become or stay fat, despite the fact that they may never have been overweight, to begin with. Even if these men and women have become much thinner than they are supposed to be (according to height and weight charts), to the point of being unhealthy, they still believe they are “fat.”

Most sufferers of anorexia are women between the ages of 10 and 25, people in higher socioeconomic standing, those involved in activities like gymnastics, cheerleading or modeling, and people who are considered perfectionists. Some of the symptoms of anorexia include an excessive loss of weight, not eating around others, sunken eyes, anxiety, shortness of breath, an obsession with caloric intake and an absence of menstruation.

You may also notice that a person with anorexia suddenly has odd eating habits like cutting their food into very tiny pieces or slowly chewing. In extreme cases, a sufferer of anorexia may grow a thin hair over their entire body that is called lanugo. This hair grows as a way to keep the body warm, since there is very little fat on the body to do so.

The medical risks of anorexia are overwhelming. Bones may shrink, the heartbeat may become irregular, osteoporosis may develop, the temperature of the body becomes lower and normal growth may be stunted. Anorexia, in many cases, has also proven fatal, as it did in the case of popular singer, Karen Carpenter. In fact, up to 20% of anorexics end up dying due to organ or heart failure.

Anorexia is treatable, although it may sometimes take several years. Treatments for anorexia include, but are not limited to, psychotherapy (to deal with the root of the problem that caused the disorder to arise and take control), hospitalization, family therapy, and group therapy. Anorexia is often hard to treat as many sufferers deny there is a problem, to begin with.

Some feel that the eating choices they make are simple lifestyle choices that will pose no problem in the long run. Others may gain the necessary weight during counseling and treatment but may relapse into anorexia when those old feelings of being “fat” start to take hold once again. It is a long struggle to overcome anorexia, but definitely one that is worth it.

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