Anorexia can occur in any person at any age in life but is most commonly diagnosed in the teenage years and it is prevalent in girls. The sociological and cultural pressure on girls to be thin may be a component of developing anorexia, but the condition is not just about dieting or weight, it is about much deeper issues that can occur for anyone.
What Is Anorexia?
People that are anorexic have an obsession with their eating habits as a way to lose weight, even if their weight loss is unhealthy, unattractive or life threatening. They are obsessed with their intake of food and tend to focus on food throughout their entire waking hours. People with anorexia may attempt to stay on diets that are 600 calories or less per day and combine this low intake with extreme types of workout routines. Fasting for days at a time may be part of the individual's routine.
Some anorexics may also use laxatives or diuretics to try to flush calories out of their system. Unlike bulimics they do not binge first, but they try to move food out of the body immediately or as soon as possible after eating, even if it is just a few calories at a time, to avoid any possible weight gain.
Anorexia also includes a very distorted body image. Even when individuals are horribly thin and are suffering from the associated issues such as skin conditions, tooth and hair loss, fine hair growth on the body, fainting and severe headaches they still see themselves as overweight or not yet at their goal.
There is typically not one root cause of anorexia. For many people diagnosed with the condition there is a combination of factors, both internal and external, that may have led to the obsession with weight and diet.
The most common attributed issue is the media and the pressure on people today to be "perfect" in their appearance. Supermodels, air brushed photography and creating larger-than-life stars based on physical beauty are often touted as the culprits. However, anorexia has been recognised as a medical issue since the mid-to-latter part of the 1800s, long before such issues were around.
Other factors can include hormonal changes, particularly in females, a family history of eating disorders (up to 84% of cases in some studies), brain chemistry imbalances especially with dopamine and serotonin, autoimmune disorders and possibly nutritional deficiencies that could include both maternal health and after birth.
Many individuals that have the physical symptoms of anorexia have other core or deeper mental health disorders also present. These can include depression, perfectionism, anxiety disorders, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder or obsessive compulsive personality disorder, among others. A history of sexual or physical abuse is also a common factor for many patients.
Working with a therapist or counsellor to fully address comorbid conditions, as well as deal with body image, is critical. A team approach that includes a counsellor or therapist who specialises in eating disorders, along with a medical doctor, nutritionist and perhaps a personal trainer to provide safe exercise routines is often a very effective treatment option.