The other day I walked into one of my favorite coffee and bagel establishments and found a note next to the cash register informing customers of the untimely death of one of the workers. When I inquired about what happened I was given information about the tragic death of a young woman. She died of the effects of chronic Anorexia Nervosa. In addition to the tragic nature of the news and the loss it represented to customers and workers alike, the irony of starving to death in a food establishment really struck me hard. I was also reminded of the fact that these eating disorders continue to be a dangerous and deadly disease.
What Is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder. It that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. They attempt to maintain a weight that is far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with Anorexia Nervosa starve themselves and exercise excessively.
This dreadful eating disorder afflicts mostly women. It can start anywhere between the ages of 13 to 25 and even older. There are a small but increasing number of young men who become anorectic as well.
The person wit Anorexia Nervosa does not see how skinny they have become. They look at themselves in the mirror and see only fat even as they waste away.
The profile of the person with anorexia is of someone who is a perfectionist, obsessive compulsive, depressed, anxious and very intelligent. Despite how much they control what they allow into their bodies, they will drink and use drugs. Oddly, they refuse anti depressant medications because they do not want to put anything that is not natural into their bodies.
Recently, it has been emphasized that families do not cause anorexia. I agree. At the very same time, families unwittingly conspire to help maintain this eating disorder. For example, it is not unusual for family members to not see the incredible weight loss in their daughter. Once someone, especially an MD points it out, it comes as a shock. It is also true that eating disorder tend to run in families, indicating that their may be a genetic factor at work here.
The utter denial of the eating disorder is what makes treatment so very difficult. The anorectic patient continues to deny the existence of a problem. Because they are so intelligent, it is very difficult to reason with them. For every argument presented they have a counter augment and that becomes enormously exasperating for loved ones.
This is the reason why a team approach is recommended for the patient with Anorexia Nervosa. On an outpatient basis, the team often includes a psychiatrist, nutritionist, psychotherapist and group therapy. This approach makes it more difficult for the patient to maintain denial, especially when there are weekly weigh-ins and food diaries that are kept. Even with all of this, the anorectic will often attempt to strictly maintain the absolute minimal weight allowed.
If left untreated, this disease leads to physical illnesses and, ultimately, death.
If you have a loved one who shows symptoms of anorexia, do not hesitate to point it out to them but without getting into a losing debate over the issue. Get them to the MD where treatment usually begins.
In extreme cases, the illness can result in hospitalization where a full treatment program is started. There are hospitals that have department specializing in treating these patients on both and in and out patient basis.
What are your experiences with Anorexia Nervosa? When you respond to this you are also helping other people who face similar problems. Please post your comments and opinions.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD