The term “Anorexia nervosa” is a combination of two words, the Greek Anorexia, which means lack of appetite and the Latin nervosa, which means originating from the nervous system. Since it is an eating disorder, it affects both the body and mind. People suffering from anorexia nervosa or simply anorexia become extremely concerned about the food they eat and their weight. In fact, they become so afraid of gaining more weight that they start limiting the amount of food they eat, almost starving themselves, and exercising excessively to keep losing weight or to prevent weight gain. People suffering from anorexia nervosa become extremely thin because of losing excessive weight. Anorexia nervosa is as much a mental problem as it is an eating problem. It is not just about starving oneself; rather people suffering from this eating disorder cope with their emotional problems in an unhealthy way. They believe that being thin equals to self-worth. Overcoming anorexia nervosa can turn out to be quite difficult. However, it is possible to help suffers gain a better sense of their body image with treatment, so that they start eating in a healthy, normal way and the serious complications of anorexia are reversed.
As mentioned, both the body and mind are affected by this eating disorder, especially the body since people employ numerous ways to lose excessive weight. Thus, people suffering from anorexia nervosa show a numerous physical, emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms. The physical signs and symptoms may include constipation, dehydration, dizziness, dry skin, extreme weight loss, fainting, fatigue, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, etc. The emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms may include fear of depression, denying hunger, gaining weight, irritability, refusal to eat, social withdrawal, etc.
Causes & Risk Factors
It is not known what causes anorexia nervosa. Although people of all ages can suffer from this eating disorder, it usually starts as a mere dieting behavior typically during teen years. Women are more likely to suffer from anorexia nervosa than men. Moreover, according to studies, Caucasian middle-class females are more vulnerable to develop anorexia, although people of any race and socioeconomic level can be affected. Biological, environmental and psychosocial factors together contribute to the cause of this eating disorder. People who have members in their families with weight issues and other physical or mental illnesses are more likely to develop this eating disorder. People who develop anorexia often already suffer from mental health issues such as affective or anxiety disorders.
The following factors can increase the risk of a person developing anorexia nervosa:
▪ Genetics: Some people can be genetically susceptible to developing anorexia nervosa.
▪ Family history: Those who have a family member who is or has suffered from anorexia are at a higher risk of developing it too.
▪ Weight changes: People may go on an extreme diet, leading to anorexia, if they receive negative social attitudes and comments about their body and weight changes.
▪ Transitions: The risk of developing anorexia increases for those who are under emotional stress as a result of a recent transition.
▪ Media and society: The promotion of thinness in fashion magazines and television, and equating it to popularity and success contribute to further increasing the risk of anorexia in people.
("Anorexia nervosa risk," 2012)
Anorexia & Other Disorders
Discovering the presence of other psychological disorders co-existing with anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder is quite common. In some cases, there is often an underlying psychological disorder that leads to the development of anorexia. According to surveys, depression is a leading and common factor among people who suffer from anorexia or some other eating disorder. According to research 24% of people suffering from bipolar disorder are more likely and susceptible to develop anorexia or some other eating disorder. 44% of bipolar patients are not able to control their diet. Although binge eating is the more common eating disorder in the United States, people who do develop anorexia are also depressed in most cases. People suffering from anorexia or other eating disorders may also be suffering from other psychological illnesses such as anxiety, bipolar personality disorder, multiple personality disorder, PTSD, OCD, etc. Based on another research, some people inherit the same genes associated with autism, and this makes them more vulnerable to develop anorexia.
There are unique challenges that emerge when it comes to treating anorexia nervosa that are not faced during the treatment of other psychiatric disorders. Apart from the treatment of cognitive and mood disturbances, it becomes critical to restore the weight of the patient because the symptoms can get aggravated because of malnutrition and can prove to be fatal. However, people suffering from anorexia tend to resist engaging in treatment, therefore, it can be very difficult to convince and motivate them to cooperate. Moreover, it can take quite some time for them to gain the excessive weight they lost because of the disorder. The best way of treating this eating disorder is to include a team of medical professionals in the treatment procedure. The chances success of the treatment of an anorexia patient can also increase significantly if family members participate and support the patient. Successfully treating anorexia also depends on three goals: restoring the weight of the patient, getting the patient to begin eating more food, and helping the patient change their perception of their body and the food they eat. Generally, medical care is limited to manage the host of complications that occur as a result of this eating disorder. Psychotherapy aims to target the psychological aspect of anorexia nervosa, and therapeutic procedures such as family-based therapy, group therapy and individual therapy can prove to be very successful in treating anorexia as a whole.
Resources (Further Reading about anorexia nervosa)
1). Treasure, Janet. (1997). Anorexia nervosa: A survival guide for families, friends and sufferers. (1st ed.). Psychology Press.
The main purpose of the book is to appease and relieve the fearful people suffering from anorexia nervous, and to answer many of the questions that arise within the minds of these people. Included in the book is an overview of the disorder, perspectives of patients and their families, and guidelines for medical professionals.
2). Hall, L., & Ostroff, M. (1998). Anorexia nervosa, a guide to recovery. (1st ed.). Gurze Books.
Lindsey Hall is a former suffer of anorexia, and Monika Ostroff is an expert on eating disorders. In this book that they have co-written, they answer questions that are commonly asked by people suffering from this disorder or want to know more about it. As the title suggests, this book is also intended to help suffers recover from anorexia.
3). Wade, T. D., Bulik, C. M., Neale, M., & Kendler, K. S. (2000). Anorexia nervosa and major depression: Shared genetic and environmental risk factors. Am J Psychiatry, 157, 469–471. Retrieved from http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/AJP/3710/469.pdf
In this article the authors aim to explain the link between anorexia nervosa and depression. They do this through research, and evidence based on the results of their study.
4). Anorexia nervosa. (2012, Feb 13). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001401/
This section of the National Center for Biotechnology Information website contains slightly more in-depth information on anorexia nervosa, especially on the causes, risk factors, symptoms, tests and treatment of this eating disorder.
5). Stark, C. (1997). All about anorexia nervosa. The Mental Health Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/content/1/c6/02/81/56/all_about_anorexia.pdf
This booklet from The Mental Health Foundation explains almost everything there is to know about anorexia nervosa. This booklet specifically covers the subject matter of the effects of anorexia nervosa, and how people suffering from this eating disorder can get help.
This course has broadened my horizon within the field of psychology. I have learned that the Science of Mental Life is at the core of psychology. Throughout this course I have come to the conclusion that psychology primarily revolves around the pattern of behavior. In fact, one of the very reasons I choose this course was to be able to comprehend why people behave in a certain way, to study their particular attitudes, which of course is the sole purpose of psychology as a whole. An eating disorder like anorexia nervosa is also a more distorted human behavior, and this is why I was enthusiastic about writing this research paper. The most useful thing that I was able to learn while writing this research paper was the relationship between eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and other psychological disorders, especially depression. If I am to pursue a career in clinical psychology in the near future, I believe at some point I would be interested in pursuing further research on the relationship between mental illnesses and eating disorders, and help those who suffer from this complicated problem.
Anorexia nervosa risk factors. (2012, Aug 2). Retrieved from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/anorexia-nervosa/risk-factors.html
Attia, E., & Walsh, B. T. (2007). Anorexia nervosa. Am J Psychiatry, 164(12), 1805-1810. Retrieved from http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=99258
Bodell, L. P., & Keel, P. K. (2010). Current treatment for anorexia nervosa: efficacy, safety, and adherence.2010(3), 91-108. Retrieved from http://www.dovepress.com/current-treatment-for-anorexia-nervosa-efficacy-safety-and-adherence-peer-reviewed-article-PRBM-recommendation1
Poutanen, O., Huuhka, K., & Perko, K. (2009). Severe anorexia nervosa, co-occurring major depressive disorder and electroconvulsive therapy as maintenance treatment: a case report. Cases Journal, 2, Retrieved from http://www.casesjournal.com/content/2/1/9362
Wildes, J., Marcus, M., & Fagiolini, A. (2008). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorder co-morbidity in patients with bipolar disorder. Psychiatry Res,161(1), 51-58. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18782643