Anorexia Nervosa comes from Latin words meaning “nervous inability to eat.” Someone with anorexia nervosa has a complete fear of gaining weight. They restrict the food they eat and have a very low body weight. If they do eat food, they have compensatory behaviors to get rid of the food such as restriction, exercise or purging. Many times, someone with anorexia has a very distorted body image and can’t look into the mirror accurately. Even though the person may be at a very low body weight, they see themselves as fat. This can be difficult to comprehend if you’ve never had an eating disorder. Families and loved ones need to understand that it’s basically like looking through a different pair of glasses.
An individual with anorexia spends the majority of their time thinking about food and weight. While they’re busy restricting their food intake, they love to feed others. They may spend hours looking for recipes or watching the Food Network on TV. They normally won’t allow themselves to eat the food they make, but if they do, then they must get rid of it.
Anorexia is a very serious disorder, which can have numerous medical complications and can ultimately end in death. According to the Eating Disorder Coalition, anorexia nervosa has the largest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Females with anorexia nervosa eventually lose the ability to have their menstrual cycle. They develop osteopenia due to the bone loss and eventually osteoporosis. There can be damage to the heart, kidneys and other organs. There may be low heart rate and low blood pressure. Someone at a low body weight may grow hair on their body (it develops to help keep the body warm) called lanugo. If there’s been laxative abuse, there can be irregular bowel movements and constipation. The `relentless pursuit of thinness is many times more important than the serious health complications that a person endures, thus the high mortality rate from anorexia nervosa.
The DSM-V (also known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5), which is what a therapist would use to see if someone meets the criteria for anorexia nervosa, states the following as criteria for diagnosis:
1. Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements, leading to significantly low body weight in context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. Significantly low weight is defined as a weight that is less than minimally normal or, for children and adolescents, less than minimally expected.
• Intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight.
• Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
Additionally, there are two different types of anorexia nervosa:
• Restricting Type – Weight loss is accomplished primarily through dieting, fasting, and/or excessive exercise.
• Binge-eating/Purge Type – Engages in recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging behavior such as self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.
Someone who is suffering from anorexia nervosa may be exercising excessively in addition to dancing. They are overly concerned about body size, weight, calorie and fat intake per day. Their personality may be someone who strives for perfection in all areas of their life, including their body. What may start off as an innocent diet can turn into a deadly disorder.