|Eating Healthy at College|
|What is anorexia nervosa?|
|What are the causes of anorexia nervosa?|
|Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa|
|What problems are associated with anorexia?|
|What is the treatment for anorexia?|
|What are some of the warning signs of anorexia?|
|How can family and friends help?|
Eating is controlled by many factors, including appetite, food availability, family, peer and cultural practices. Dieting to a body weight leaner than needed for your health is highly promoted by current fashion trends, sales campaigns for special foods, and even by peer pressure on our own campuses.
Approximately 1-5% of women will develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders involve serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating, as well as feelings of distress or concern about body shape or weight. Researchers are investigating how and why initially voluntary actions, such as eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual, at some point move beyond our control in some of us.
Eating disorders are not due to a failure in our own will or behavior, rather, they are real, treatable medical illnesses in which certain altered eating patterns seem to take on a life of their own. Two main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and BULIMIA NERVOSA link to this infosheet. Eating disorders often develop during adolescence or early adulthood (like during college), but research has shown that they can occur in children as well as older adults, too. [ To Top ]
People who intentionally starve themselves or severely restrict their food intake suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. The word anorexia literally means loss of appetite and approximately 1-2% of women will be affected by this disorder. About half of all anorexics display symptoms of bulimia. The disorder, which usually begins in young people, mostly females, around the time or puberty, involves extreme weight loss -- at least 15 percent below a young womanís normal body weight. Those experiencing anorexia nervosa also have an intense fear of becoming fat, even though they are underweight. Many people with the anorexia look emaciated but are convinced that they are overweight. Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation, yet they often continue to deny the condition. Food and weight become obsessions. For some women, the compulsiveness shows up in strange eating rituals or the refusal to eat in front of others. It is not uncommon for women with anorexia to collect recipes and prepare lavish gourmet feasts for family and friends, but not partake in the meals themselves. Often they will maintain rigid exercise routines to keep off the weight. Knowing about anorexia is especially important for college-age women since ninety percent of all anorexics are women.[ To Top ]
The exact cause of ANOREXIA NERVOSA remains unknown, but it is thought to be linked to a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. Eating disorders frequently co-occur with other psychiatric disorders like depression.
Additionally, scientists have found that anorexia and other eating disorders seem to run in families, especially in females. For example, a woman has a 10 to 20 times greater risk of developing an eating disorder if she has a sibling with the disease. This may suggest a role for our genes in giving some of us a predisposition to eating disorders. Biological characteristics of women with anorexia have shown these women to have lower levels of the brain chemicals seratonin and norepinepherine. Altered levels of these chemicals have also been noticed in people suffering from depression.[ To Top ]
People with anorexia may believe that they would be happier and more successful if they were thin; a notion that many college-women are all too familiar with. Anorexics tend to be perfectionists. They want everything in their lives to be perfect. People suffering from this illness are typically good students and are involved in many school and community activities. They tend to blame themselves if things in their life are less than perfect. Many anorexics suffer from errors in thinking or perceptions. They incorrectly believe they need to lose weight to find happiness. Common in anorexics is their distorted view of their own body. Others have had difficulties in relationships and manifest these problems through their eating habits. Anorexia can also be the delayed result of unresolved conflicts or painful experiences from childhood.[ To Top ]
There are many health consequences of anorexia nervosa. Women with anorexia usually stop having menstrual periods; this is a condition called amenorrhea. Anorexia may lead to dry skin and thinning hair. Anorexics may grow fine hair all over their body as a natural defense mechanism against extreme weight loss and the accompanying drop in body temperature. People suffering from anorexia may feel cold and are easily susceptible to illness. Mood swings often occur. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in ten people with anorexia dies from starvation, suicide or medical complications like heart attacks or kidney failure. Physical problems also include anemia, heart palpitations, bone loss, tooth decay, as well as inflammation of the esophagus.[ To Top ]
Eating disorders can be treated and a healthy weight restored. Anorexia is a mental problem manifested in a physical form and demands immediate medical attention. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be. Treatment for any eating disorder should include a mental health professional as well as a primary health care physician, and nutrition experts. Essential components of successful treatments are ongoing medical care, regular psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and possibly medication. Some eating disorders may be treated with antidepressants; however, they appear to be less effective for anorexia nervosa. Physicians help monitor bone density loss and can detect heart rhythm disturbances. Psychologists and psychiatrists help patients identify the important emotional issues and replace destructive thoughts and behaviors with more positive ones. Support groups also play a role in treating anorexia. Often groups of patients will meet weekly to discuss their fears and help each other recover. Most cases of anorexia can be treated successfully, but not instantly. For many patients, treatments may need to be long-term. Luckily, though, most of the health effects of anorexia can be reversed once the patient gains weight.
The specific treatment program for anorexia involves three main phases:
Early diagnosis and treatment increases the chances for success. Use of psychotropic medication should only be used after weight gain has begun. Certain serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to be useful in helping patients maintain weight and controlling mood and anxiety problems associated with anorexia.[ To Top ]
Possible warning signs include:
If you think a friend or family member has anorexia, talk with them about the behavior that you observed in a caring, nonjudgmental way and encourage the person to get medical help. If you think you have anorexia, remember that you are not alone and that this is a health problem that requires professional help. As a first step, talk to your parents, physician, religious counselor, or campus health professional. [ To Top ]