While we usually relate Anorexia nervosa or anorexia, with teens, this eating disorder is actually largely prevalent among women aged 15 to 35. The illness essentially entails starving oneself to death in order to lose weight and consequently build up self-esteem.
The disease starts innocently enough. The victim wakes up one morning, looks at herself in the mirror, and decides she could do with getting rid of that 'fat'. If she just loses some weight, every thing would be perfect. So she goes on a diet and starts an exercise regime. But it doesn't stop when she's shed those few extra kilos. She continues seeing herself as fat, ignoring the perceptions of regular body weight. When she weighs about 85% of what is considered normal for her age and height, is hyperactive and exercises a lot to continue burning calories, but still cannot get rid of the nagging certainty that she is 'fat and ugly', you know she has a problem.
Anorexia is usually accompanied by hyperactivity, hypothermia, and amenorrhea.
This is when anorexics exercise frantically to lose whatever little weight they are left with.
This results when the fat cells, which are the body's natural insulation, become non-existent and the victim starts feeling cold all the time. As a result, the body develops a light coating of fur on the body, to retain whatever little body warmth it can.
Amenorrhea sets in when a woman misses at least three menstrual cycles. Loss of monthly menstrual periods is typical in anorexic women while men with anorexia often become impotent.
Nipping it in the Bud
Sadly anorexia is not usually 'nipped in the bud', as it is not recognised until it spirals out of control. Parents of anorexics don't realise initially what their child is going through, as a desire to lose weight by diet and exercise is normal enough. Almost every one goes through a weight-losing spree at some point in life, but with anorexics, it becomes an obsession. Their distorted perception of reality makes them see themselves as fat, even when they are rake thin. They look at themselves in the mirror and they don't see their protruding rib cages - they see the skin on it - and identify it as fat. The fear of being seen as fat continues even when the person is near death from starvation. They won't eat even when suffering from acute hunger pangs. Further, anorexics often wear loose, baggy clothes to hide their 'fat' body, so one doesn't immediately realise how much weight the child has lost.
Change in Attitude Towards Anorexics
The general perception that anorexics are vain and obsessed with their looks needs to be changed, and anorexia needs to be recognised as a serious disease requiring treatment. Anorexics are usually controlled people who are perfectionists but have low self-esteem. Their body weight, shape and size is directly related to how good they feel about themselves. This may be because of troubled family situations, childhood abuse or parents telling their child that he or she should lose weight or getting teased at school because of some extra weight. If a child suffers from anorexia, family members should not let the eating disorder become a hidden, secret problem. Instead, they should talk openly and with obvious concern to the young woman about the situation as early as possible.
Group therapy seems to be one of the more effective methods of treatment as women in the same situation get together to speak about their experiences and share their fears.
If anorexia has reached the extent that the person's life is in any danger because of starvation, she should be immediate hospitalised. It may not be easy to gain the victims' co-operation, especially if they have been brought to treatment against their will. Building a trusting and supportive relationship is likely to be the most important part of treatment.