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Anorexia nervosa is a chronic illness that involves an intense fear of fat and gaining weight. Those that suffer from Anorexia have a distorted image of what their body looks like, and they either refuse or are unable to maintain a healthy body weight.
Anorexia is the third most common illness among pre-teen and teenage girls. The term Anorexia literally means loss of appetite, but the reality is that teens who suffer from Anorexia are most often hungry, but they choose to control their appetite, which in turn gives the sufferer a false feeling of power over their body.
Anorexia is a life threatening disease defined by a refusal to maintain a body weight within fifteen to twenty percent of a minimal normal weight. Anorexia is characterized by a preoccupation with food, self starvation, compulsive exercising; the process of eating becomes an obsession. The sufferer develops bizarre eating habits, such as counting out small quantities of food, picking apart and weighing food, and skipping meals altogether. If left untreated, Anorexia can be fatal (What is Anorexia?).
In its early stages, the symptoms of Anorexia are very difficult for friends and family to detect. As the disorder progresses, parents and friends usually become suspicious as they notice weight fluctuations, preoccupations with appearance and weight, and a pattern of avoidance behaviors. The afflicted teen will often isolate themself, or wear two to three layers of clothing in an attempt to keep their loved ones from finding out how far the disease has progressed. Sometimes they will become involved in the abuse of stimulants, such as ephedrine based diet pills and methamphetamine, all in an attempt to suppress their appetite and lose more weight. The teen may consume large amounts of laxatives and exercise to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to lose the fat they see when they look in the mirror.
Adolescents with Anorexia have four primary problem areas which include:
• Argument and debate
• Guilt and shame
• Obsession over appearance and weight
• Secretive behaviors
Symptoms and warning signs of Anorexia Nervosa include the following: the teenager is typically a perfectionist and achieves above average to excellent grades in school. At the same time, she suffers from low self esteem and irrationally believes she is fat, no matter how thin and emaciated she becomes. Desperately needing a feeling of control over her life, the teen with Anorexia only feels in control when she deprives herself of the food her body needs. When she looks in the mirror she sees herself as fat and in a relentless pursuit to be thin, the teen starves herself.
Often this reaches a point where there is serious damage to the internal organs, the teens hair begins to fall out in clumps, and she experiences irregular heartbeat. These symptoms can lead to death if not caught in time (Teenagers with Eating Disorders).
In patients with Anorexia, starvation will eventually damage vital organs, such as the heart and brain. To protect itself, the body shifts into “slow gear”; monthly menstrual periods slow down and eventually stop, and blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates drop. Hair and nails become brittle and the skin dries, yellows, and becomes covered with soft hair called lanugo. At this stage, dehydration, excessive thirst, and frequent urination occur. Mild anemia, swollen joints, reduced muscle mass, and light-headedness also commonly occur in people suffering from Anorexia. If the disorder is allowed to continue and becomes severe, sufferers may lose calcium from their bones, making them brittle and prone to breaking. In some patients, the brain shrinks, causing personality changes. Fortunately, this condition can be reversed when normal weight is reestablished (Answers to Questions about Teenage Bulimia and Anorexia).
With specialized and comprehensive treatment, most teenagers can be greatly helped and learn to control and modify their eating habits. Treatment for Anorexia usually requires a team approach, including individual and family therapy, working with a nutritionist and the primary care physician, and medication. It is also important to get help for any other medical problems, including anxiety, substance abuse, and depression.
The general response toward friends and caregivers who attempt to reason and persuade these kids to eat is often resistance, avoidance, or defiance, At the same time, the teen will seem to make efforts at compromise, but in reality they are determined that no one will stop them from their eating behaviors. This mixed message produces frustration in friends and family who fail to understand the inflexible nature of the teen’s obsession (Answers to Questions about Teenage Bulimia and Anorexia).
Research has shown that early identification and treatment leads to a more positive outcome for teens suffering from Anorexia. They must learn how to deal with their unpleasant feelings of self image and appearance in more positive ways. Teenagers and their parents need to be educated in order to spot dangerous warning signs of Anorexia. By educating children and giving them the tools they need, teens may be able to spot the problem in a friend before it escalates. At the same time, friends must realize that Anorexia is extremely dangerous and they should alert counselors and parents immediately regarding their concerns. Being informed about signs, symptoms, and causes of Anorexia will give everyone concerned a better understanding of what to look for and expect (What is Anorexia?).
“Answers to Questions about Teenage Bulimia and Anorexia” Understanding and Dealing with Bulimia and Anorexia. 2001. 17 Mar. 2005
“Teenagers with Eating Disorders” AACAP-Facts for Families #2. Jul. 2004. 17 Mar. 2005
“What is Anorexia?” Muhlenberg.edu. 2001. 17 Mar. 2005
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