About Eating Disorders
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an inability to eat enough food to maintain weight and/or growth trajectories; exceptionally low body weight; an obsessive concern with weight gain; and a distorted body image. The disorder has two subtypes and can involve both severe restriction of food intake and binge/purge behaviors. The median age of onset is 12 years old and falling; the disorder has been diagnosed in individuals as young as six. Anorexia nervosa can be life-threatening, with mortality often associated with cardiac complications and suicide.
What causes Anorexia Nervosa?
Like all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa develops over a period of time as a result of a complicated blend of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. There is no single cause to point to, and despite common misconceptions, families, and communities of support are not to blame. In fact, they are often recovery’s strongest ally. Many individuals have genetic predispositions to anorexia nervosa that, depending on environmental influences, may or may not be awakened over the course of their lifetime.
- Abnormal brain circuitry and weakened food-related reward pathways
- Malnutrition-induced changes in physiological processes and altered hunger and fullness signals
- Genetic predispositions and psychological characteristics such as a drive for perfection
- Environmental factors such as trauma
- Culturally sanctioned drive for thinness
Risks of Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa can have extreme medical and physiological consequences that may or may not resolve completely during recovery.
- Electrolyte imbalances, congestive heart failure, and sudden death
- Impaired decision-making and impulse control
- Cold intolerance, hair loss, and skin and nail discoloration
- Osteoporosis and easy bruising/bruising along spine
- Growth of lanugo, or fine white hair all over body
- In males: Decreased frequency of erections and nocturnal emissions
- In females: Amenorrhea, difficulty conceiving, and if pregnant, increased risk for miscarriage, low birth weight, and postpartum depression