People who intentionally starve themselves suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. The disorder, which usually begins in young people around the time of puberty, involves extreme weight loss – at least 15 percent below the individual's normal body weight.
Those experiencing anorexia nervosa also have an intense fear of becoming fat, even though they are underweight. Many people with the disorder look emaciated but are convinced they are overweight.
Dangers of Anorexia
- Starvation: People with anorexia may need to be hospitalized to keep from starving to death, although they remain convinced they're fat.
- Amenorrhea: The illness also causes a woman's menstrual cycle to stop, a condition called amenorrhea.
- Impotence: Men with anorexia often become impotent.
For some, the compulsiveness shows up in strange eating rituals or the refusal to eat in front of others. It is not uncommon for people with anorexia to collect recipes and prepare lavish gourmet feasts for family and friends, but not partake in the meals themselves. They may adhere to strict exercise routines to keep off weight.
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Signs of Anorexia
People with anorexia may look very thin. They may use extreme measures to lose weight by:
- Making themselves throw up
- Taking pills to urinate or have a bowel movement
- Taking diet pills
- Not eating or eating very little
- Exercising a lot, even in bad weather or when hurt or tired
- Weighing food and counting calories
- Eating very small amounts of only certain foods
- Moving food around the plate instead of eating it
Anorexia can also alter behavior. Anorexics may talk about weight and food all the time, not eat in front of others, be moody or sad, or not want to go out with friends. People with anorexia may also have other psychiatric and physical illnesses, including:
- Obsessive Behavior
- Substance Abuse
- Issues with the heart and/or brain
- Problems with physical development
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If you fall into any of these descriptions for eating disorders, do not hesitate to contact your physician or a counselor. If you have friends who might have an eating disorder, please encourage them to seek help – you may save a life!
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Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF, however, does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Food and Nutrition Information Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Anorexia Nervosa Fact Sheet, WomensHealth.gov
Material taken from the National Women's Health Information Center, Office on Women's Health
For More Information:
See our Teens & Eating Disorders article.
See our Dangers of Eating Disorders article.