Extreme weight loss, severe self-imposed dietary restrictions and a distorted body image are among the key signs of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that has become increasingly common among teens and young adults. Reviewing the facts and statistics surrounding this eating disorder could help you understand the severity of the illness and motivate you to get help for yourself or someone close to you.
Who Develops Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa affects males and females in all age groups, but the disorder is most common in teenagers and young adults. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reports that:
- Anorexia is the third most common long-term illness among teenagers.
- Males make up about 10 to 15 percent of those who suffer from anorexia.
- Teens and young adults between the ages of 12 and 26 make up 95 percent of those who have eating disorders.
- Anorexia is the most common cause of death (up to 12 times higher than any other condition) among young women ages 15 to 24.
what to expect from our residential program.
Dieting is far from uncommon in the United States, and a teen who watches her weight won’t necessarily become anorexic. However, North Dakota State University notes that 35 percent of people who start a “normal” diet will take their diet to unhealthy extremes, and up to 25 percent of this group will develop a full-blown eating disorder.
How Does the Disorder Begin?
The medical community isn’t certain exactly how this complex eating disorder begins. Psychiatry Journal has identified a few of the underlying causes of anorexia nervosa:
- Genetic factors. There is some evidence that the tendency to develop eating disorders may be hereditary, possibly as a result of inherited abnormalities in brain chemistry.
- Life stressors. The pressures and demands of adolescence seem to increase with each generation. Teens who are overwhelmed by the changes of puberty or who are subject to psychological or sexual trauma may develop eating disorders as a self-protective coping mechanism.
- Cultural expectations. The American media tends to focus on a physical ideal that most of us can never hope to reach yet many girls and young women feel pressure to live up to an unachievable body image. Dieting, exercise and weight loss are rewarded by our culture but in anorexia, these behaviors are taken to pathological length.
- Mental or behavioral disorders. Psychiatric conditions like depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder often go hand in hand with anorexia. Recovery from these conditions requires treatment for both the eating disorder and the accompanying mental health disorder.
How Is Anorexia Diagnosed?
Anorexia involves more than just weight loss. This emotional eating disorder has several defining characteristics, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):
- Losing a significant percentage of one’s normal weight
- Striving for an abnormally low body weight at all costs
- Extreme, self-imposed dietary restrictions
- An overpowering fear of weight gain
- A self-image that relies on weight and body size
- Infrequent or absent menstrual periods in females
Because people with anorexia may hide their eating patterns and conceal their weight loss, the disease may progress to dangerous lengths before it’s noticed. Parents, partners and friends should be aware of the risks of eating disorders in young people, especially in those who obsess over their weight, skip meals, exercise strenuously or take over-the-counter weight loss products.
Is There Any Help Available?
The secrecy, denial and self-loathing that often accompany anorexia can leave families feeling frustrated and hopeless. But anorexia can be successfully treated through intensive recovery programs that address the individual’s unique needs. Effective treatment strategies include:
- Individualized psychotherapy
- Family counseling
- Dietary counseling
- Life coaching
The facility you choose should be staffed by a team of psychologists, nutritionists, therapists, counselors and alternative health practitioners who can provide the integrated care you need to recover from anorexia. Treatment for anorexia involves extensive work that addresses the psychological and emotional roots of the disorder as well as its physical manifestations. We encourage you to call the admissions counselors at Futures to talk about how our recovery plans can give you new hope in the days ahead.