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Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia is a disorder characterised by individuals that lose more weight than is desirable based on age and height. People with this disorder are afraid of gaining weight, even when they are underweight. They tend to undergo rigid diets or use other methods to lose weight. The prevalence of anorexia is 0.5% and the onset is most common between the ages of 14-18.

How does anorexia manifest itself?

Anorexia is characterised by three principles.

  • An individual restricts dietary intake which results in an individual being lighter than desirable based on ideal weight.
  • An individual is seriously afraid of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if they are underweight.
  • An individual perceives their body image or weight in a distorted manner. They develop their self-esteem based on this distorted body image or weight and have little insight into the severity of having a low body weight.

There are two types of anorexia: restricting type and binge-eating/purging type. Individuals with a restricting type do not regularly engage in binge eating or cleansing behaviour (e.g. inducing vomiting, abusing laxatives or using other methods). Persons with a binge eating/purging type regularly engage in such behaviour.

Individuals with anorexia greatly reduce their food intake and even increase exercise to lose weight. Despite weight loss and low body weight, their thoughts revolve almost exclusively on continuing to lose weight and they are very scared to gain weight. These thoughts become an obsession that increases as the disease progresses.

Anorexia has a serious effect on physical and mental health. Common complications include arrhythmias, osteoporosis, muscle deterioration and weakness, dehydration, fainting, dry skin and hair and increased fluffy hair growth throughout the body. It is also common for individuals with anorexia to experience depression, anxiety, compulsion, obsession and more.