Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially chronic and life-threatening eating disorder defined by a refusal to maintain minimal body weight within 15% of an individual’s ideal weight. Other characteristics include an intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, denial of the seriousness of the illness, and for women, amenorrhea (absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles otherwise expected to occur).
There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa. In the “restricting” subtype, low body weight is maintained purely by restricted food intake and, possibly, excessive exercise. The “binge eating/purging” subtype restrict food intake but also regularly engage in binge eating and/or purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. It’s common to move back and forth between subtypes during the course of the illness.
Anorexia often appears during adolescence, with 76% reporting onset of the disorder between the ages of 11 and 20. It is about ten times more likely in females than males. The mortality rate for individuals diagnosed with anorexia is between 5–20%—the highest of any mental illness—with roughly half of those due to suicide.
People with Anorexia can have a distorted body image causing them to perceive themselves as too fat even when extremely thin. Perfectionism, along with other personality traits, can accompany Anorexia. Food and weight can be used to gain a sense of control in their lives.
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