What is Anorexia? And What Do We Do About It?

According to Nationaleatingdisorders.org, approximately 20 million women in the United States alone suffer from some type of eating disorder, many from one termed "anorexia"? But what exactly is this disease? And how do we stop women from contracting it?

An eating disorder is any psychological disorder characterized by abnormal eating practices. Medically speaking, anorexia is a lack or loss of appetite. But the majority of people who think of the word “anorexia” think of what is actually “anorexia nervosa.” Anorexia nervosa is an emotional disorder that is characterized specifically by a lack of desire to eat and a pathological desire to lose weight.  Many people believe that this disease can happen to anyone. They’re right. Anyone is able to develop anorexia, therefore knowing the signs and who is at risk for developing this psychological disease is crucial.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia include pathological fear of weight gain or becoming fat, distorted body image, excessive dieting and exercising, refusing to eat or lying about having already eaten. Abnormal obsessions with food, such as counting calories as well as studying recipes and nutrient contents in food are also found frequently in people who have developed anorexia. In addition, anorexic women will have lighter periods, or they will stop all together. They may show signs of being cold and weak since the fat content has been leaked from their body for a significant portion of time. However, everyone will inevitably behave differently and display different signs of anorexia.

While people of different backgrounds have the ability to develop anorexia nervosa, teenage girls tend to be at the greatest risk. Because of this, it is important for parents of young women between the ages of 13 and 18 to pay special attention to their daughters. Skipping a few meals a week could be the beginning of a life threatening disease. According to eatingdisorders.org, women who come from upper middle class families and also live in areas with an abundance of food also tend to more frequently develop eating disorders than most other groups. These qualifications most frequently tend to fit young white women, causing anorexia to most frequently to be seen in white women in from well off families in the United States.

While there are many statistics and well known facts about who will develop anorexia as well as the signs of the disease after someone already has contracted it, there is still the hazy cloud of misunderstanding around the prevention of the disease. According to WebMD, a good home is the best method of preventing anorexia. Parents establishing solid relationships with their children and encouraging a healthy view of oneself and their body image has been linked to young women who do not develop anorexia. Parents who accept their children for who they are and encouraging and helping them to be the best possible version of who they are today are less likely to have children who develop anorexia nervosa. Additionally, parents should not reward or punish their children with food. Parental practices such as sending children to bed without dinner or taking your child to their favorite restaurant for getting a good grade on a test should be avoided. This is not to say that parents should never take their children to nice restaurants for special occasions, but those occasions should infrequently be for good behavior and rather to celebrate birthdays or perhaps graduations.

Medicine is a long way off from discovering the causes of anorexia, but it is known that the disease can be linked to a variety of backgrounds. Following the suggested guidelines by a doctor as well as this article may help to prevent anorexia, but a method of curing anorexia once a person has developed it should not be treated as if it were a "phase," but should instead be treated as a true disease. According to NationalEatingDisorders.org, there are many health repercussions including, but not limited to hair loss, dry brittle bones, and overall weakness.

Anorexia nervosa is many things, but overall it is a a potentially life-threatening disease that needs to be treated as such and should never be taken lightly. If you see something, say something. If you can do something, do it! It could save a life.  

-By Michaela Stevenson