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A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Anorexia Nervosa

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Anorexia nervosa is a well-known and relatively common type of eating disorder that affects people of all types, afflicting individuals regardless of ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, or gender, although it is more common in adolescent girls and young adults. Parents and loved ones of an individual who shows the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa may not know how to handle the situation, and while that’s a frightening proposition, it’s important to remember that anorexia nervosa is treatable.

Those closest to a person with anorexia nervosa should take the time to familiarize themselves with the basics of the disorder, and what their available options are when it comes to treatment. Read below to learn a little more about anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa FAQ

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa, like all eating disorders, is a very serious mental health condition involving psychological and physical distress. Perhaps the most well-known type of eating disorder is anorexia nervosa, which has been portrayed (often unfairly or in an unrealistically frightening way) in films and other popular culture. ​The classic symptoms of anorexia nervosa, as listed in the DSM-V, include distorted and negative body image (thinking of oneself as “fat”), extreme restriction of caloric intake, and often excessive exercise and/or diet pill or laxative abuse. Anorexia nervosa recovery can require extensive psychiatric and medical treatment.

Who Does Anorexia Nervosa Affect?

Virtually anyone can develop an eating disorder at any age. However, the typical age of onset is age 14 – 21, which makes adolescent anorexia nervosa treatment necessary in many cases. That being said, extensive studies over decades have shown that anorexia nervosa does affect young women more frequently than other demographics.

It’s much more common than most people think, as well.

Recent research suggests that up to 7 percent of American women have displayed the signs of anorexia nervosa at some point in their life. In addition, anorexia nervosa is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents – a striking figure considering how extreme the health risks associated with it can be.

Does Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Really Work?

For most clinicians and treatment professionals, the term “cured” is a no-go.  However, with personalized treatment that takes an individual’s unique needs into account, many people with eating disorders can enjoy a successful long-term recovery.

For the most intensive cases, residential treatment programs might be necessary. In less severe cases and for people stepping down after residential treatment, anorexia nervosa treatment centers that offer a day treatment program may be a better option. This is also a useful course of action for adolescents who don’t want to interrupt their schooling. As with any form of mental health treatment, the chance of relapse greatly diminishes when teens have access to aftercare and a strong support system at home.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is often a source of shame for the individuals suffering from it, leading them to hide the behavioral and other signs that there’s a problem. However, there are certain signs that family members and other loved ones can look out for that will help make the next steps clearer.

Most prominent will be a disordered or distorted body image (commonly presenting as a persistent misconception that they are overweight, even if they are medically underweight) and consistently avoiding meals. They may leave food on the plate, find excuses to skip meals entirely and obsess over calories and fat/sugar intake. People with anorexia nervosa will generally avoid eating as much as possible, even to the point of starving themselves.

In some forms of anorexia, such as atypical anorexia nervosa, the extreme weight loss may not occur, although they will suffer the same lack of vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients. Another common behavior that comes with anorexia nervosa is compulsive exercising or the abuse of laxatives or diuretics.

If someone you love is showing these signs or symptoms, don’t hesitate.  Reach out to your doctor or an eating disorder specialist as soon as possible.  Anorexia nervosa can be treated – and it’s best to get started sooner rather than later.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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CARRIE HUNNICUTTWith 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach, and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment  – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.

Photo by Jonathan Cosens Photography on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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