Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder marked by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. It is often driven by an intense fear of gaining weight, in addition to several genetic, biological and environmental factors.
Anorexia comes in two forms:
- Restricting Type: the intentional avoidance of caloric or food intake
- Binge-Purge Type: which includes a binge episode and some kind of compensatory behavior such as overexercise, vomiting, diuretics, laxatives and/or diet pills.
Those impacted are unable or unwilling to maintain adequate nutritional intake and a body weight that is expected for their age and height. Anorexia often stems from a distorted view of self and appearance, which leads to an unhealthy relationship with food, and behaviors such as restricting and binge eating/purging. Many times malnutrition results in a loss of hunger cues, which can intensify body distortions and these harmful actions.
Anorexia can result in serious medical complications, including cardiac issues, low blood pressure, muscle loss, kidney damage and even potential loss of life.
What is Anorexia?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes the following diagnostic criteria for anorexia:
- Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements, leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory and physical health
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if at a significantly low weight
- Disturbance about body weight or shape, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of current low body weight
Who Is Affected by Anorexia?
Anorexia, like all eating disorders, does not discriminate. It impacts individuals of all genders, ages, demographics and socioeconomic statuses.
Statistics vary, but a study cited by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) based on a variety of sources estimates that between 0.9% and 2.0% of females and 0.1% to 0.3% of males will develop anorexia during their lifetime.
While experts agree that females are far more susceptible to anorexia than males, they disagree on the size of the difference. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD) says that females are impacted at a rate of 10:1 versus males. NEDA, though, says males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia, adding that males are at a higher risk of dying, in part because anorexia is often more advanced when they are ultimately diagnosed, because many people assume males don’t have eating disorders.
Incidence is highest among adolescent and young adult females.
What Are the Risks Related to Anorexia?
Medical risks often encountered by those with anorexia include cardiac complications such as a low or abnormal heart rate, low body temperature, low blood pressure, severe dehydration and kidney damage. Individuals with anorexia may also experience muscle loss, hair loss, osteoporosis (reduction of bone density), dental decay and gastroesophageal reflux disease. For women, amenorrhea (suppression of menstrual cycle) and fertility issues may occur.
Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.
- Mortality rates of those with anorexia are 12 times higher than all causes of death for females 15-24 years old, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.
- The risk of premature death is six to 12 times higher in women with anorexia nervosa (AN) than in the general population, according to the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED).
- Suicide is the cause of one in five of anorexia-related deaths; individuals with anorexia are 31 times more likely than the general population to commit suicide, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry.
If You Are Ready to Regain Your Life, Walden Can Help.
If you are concerned that you – or a loved one – may have an eating disorder, we are here to help. Please call 781-647-6727 to speak with a Walden eating disorders intake specialist, or complete the form on the right, to start the road to recovery.