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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, also called anorexia, is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. The disorder is diagnosed when a person weighs at least 15% less than his or her normal/ideal body weight. Extreme weight loss in people with anorexia nervosa can lead to dangerous health problems and even death.

The term anorexia literally means "loss of appetite." However, this definition is misleading as people with anorexia nervosa are often hungry but refuse food anyway. People with anorexia nervosa have intense fears of becoming fat and see themselves as fat even when they are very slender. These individuals may try to correct this perceived "flaw" by strictly limiting food intake and exercising excessively in order to lose weight.

Bulimia: Who's At Risk?

Bulimia nervosa, also called bulimia, is a psychological eating disorder that is characterized by episodes of binge eating (consuming a large quantity of food in one sitting) followed by inappropriate methods of weight control, such as vomiting, fasting, enemas, excessive use of laxatives and diuretics, or compulsive exercising.

People with bulimia often perform the behaviors in secret, feeling disgusted and ashamed when they binge, yet relieved once they purge. People with bulimia usually weigh within the normal range for their age and height. However, they may fear gaining weight, have desire to lose weight, and may feel intensely dissatisfied with their bodies.

Read more about what causes bulimia

Who Gets Anorexia?

Eating disorders like anorexia are more common in females than in males. The risk of developing an eating disorder is greater in actors, models, dancers, and athletes in sports where appearance and/or weight are important, such as wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, and figure skating.

People with anorexia tend to be very high achievers, performing very well in school, sports, work, and other activities. They tend to be perfectionists with obsessive, anxious, or depressive symptoms. Anorexia nervosa usually begins around the time of puberty, but it can develop at any time.

What Causes Anorexia?

The exact cause of anorexia is not known, but research suggests that a combination of certain personality traits, emotions, and thinking patterns, as well as biological and environmental factors might be responsible.

People with anorexia often use food and eating as a way to gain a sense of control when other areas of their lives are very stressful or when they feel overwhelmed. Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, or loneliness also might contribute to the development of the disorder. In addition, people with eating disorders might have troubled relationships, or have a history of being teased about their size or weight. Pressure from peers and a society that equates thinness and physical appearance with beauty also can have an impact on the development of anorexia.

Eating disorders also might have physical causes. Changes in hormones that control how the body and mind maintain mood, appetite, thinking, and memory might foster eating disorders. The fact that anorexia nervosa tends to run in families also suggests that a susceptibility to the disorder might be hereditary.

WebMD Medical Reference

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