Anorexia Nervosa: Causes, Dangers, and Treatments

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that affects less than two percent of America. People with anorexia nervosa prioritize maintaining their lowest weight for their age or height. Many people don’t eat or avoid eating certain foods to maintain their low weight. It is also common for those with anorexia to overexercise to lose weight. According to the National Library of Medicine, this practice of undereating combined with overexercising leads to anorexia having the highest mortality rate among psychiatric disorders. Those with anorexia may still view themselves as overweight or “fat,” while appearing very thin to everyone else. This distorted perception of themselves leads to the vicious cycle of undereating to the point of physical starvation. 

Anorexia has many causes, all of which are quite different. The Mayo Clinic states that the three leading causes of anorexia are biological, psychological, and environmental. The clinic notes that biologically “[s]ome people may have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism, sensitivity and perseverance — all traits associated with anorexia.” These traits can increase one’s chance of having anorexia but don’t guarantee someone will develop it. While there isn’t too much evidence to point to biology as a leading factor in the development of anorexia, there is a surplus of evidence that points to environmental factors. Whether the environment is someone’s upbringing and family or the media, environmental factors play a substantial role in developing anorexia nervosa. Repetitive comments about weight or an emphasis on remaining thin in one’s household could increase the risk of developing anorexia.  Psychologically, someone’s body image or how they view themselves physically can increase their chance of developing anorexia nervosa. According to Abnormal Psychology in a Changing World, “[o]ther people may see them as nothing but “skin and bones,” but women with anorexia still see themselves as too fat.” Body image can play a significant role in the development of anorexia and the severity of the disorder. 

Anorexia nervosa has dangerous effects on one’s body and one’s mind. Anorexia can cause one’s otherwise healthy body to deteriorate quickly. Psychologically, anorexia nervosa can have lasting impacts. American Addiction Centers states that anorexia can lead to suicidal thoughts. Those with anorexia typically think of food constantly and tend to withdraw themselves from friends or family because of a fear of eating. Physically, anorexia can lead to a  lot of potential health issues. Mayo Clinic lists that anorexia nervosa can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, heart failure, kidney problems, and other health issues. Since someone with anorexia isn’t properly nourishing their body, organs in the body are at an increased risk of being damaged. In sporadic cases, the disorder can even lead to death. For women, anorexia can lead to the loss of their period. The Texas Fertility Center claims that “[h]aving an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, can make it more difficult to conceive.” The long-term loss of a period due to malnourishment can lead to infertility in women.The treatment of anorexia nervosa is complex. Depending on the severity of the disorder, the treatment may be intense. For example, as the textbook Abnormal Psychology in a Changing World says, “[t]reatment of anorexia nervosa may involve hospitalization, especially in cases in which weight loss becomes severe, or body weight falls rapidly.” If a patient’s life is at risk due to their weight or habits, they may be hospitalized. For cases that aren’t life-threatening, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used. While this approach is effective, it can be pretty hard to treat patients with anorexia. CBT works by helping patients notice negative thought patterns and beliefs. These beliefs can be critical contributors to eating disorders. Even though treatments are widely available for anorexia, Plos One journal says that “adolescents with AN are described as resistant to the treatment due to the ego syntonic nature of the disease.” This resistance to treatment leads many people to drop out of treatment or get readmitted to the hospital within a year.

This blog post is part of the CIMA law group blog. If you are located in Arizona and are seeking legal services, CIMA law group specializes in Immigration law, Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and Government Relations. 

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