Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by refusal to maintain a healthy body weight and an intense fear of gaining weight. The term anorexia is of Greek origin: 'an' is a prefix that denotes negation and 'orexis' stands for appetite - thus meaning negative appetite or lack of desire to eat.
According to a clinical report released in November 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 0.5% of adolescent girls in the United States suffer from anorexia nervosa. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that each day there are more cases being reported in the 8-to-11-year-old bracket.
Social and Environmental
Advertising promotes extreme thinness as the ideal way to be for women. Girls are bombarded with ads inspiring them to be super-thin. There is peer pressure at school. At times, overly controlling parents, who themselves give undue importance to external appearance, may criticize a child's body or appearance. All these factors drive a child to put harsh restrictions on what they eat.
Constant teasing and bullying at school for being overweight can push a child to go on an extreme diet. Children of parents who obsess about their weight, too, are predisposed to being fanatical about thinness. Reports indicate that victims of child sexual abuse are more likely to have symptoms of this disorder.
Biological and Genetic
Brain chemistry plays an important role in anorexia. People suffering from this condition tend to have high levels of cortisol (the hormone related to stress) and low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (hormones related to the feeling of well-being). Genetically, this condition is highly heritable.
Warning Signs of Anorexia
According to the staff at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, the warning signs for detecting anorexia are:
Significant weight loss
Continual dieting (even though the child is already thin)
Feeling of being fat even after weight loss
Fear of weight gain
Lack of menstrual periods
Preoccupation with food, calories, nutrition, and/or cooking
A preference to eat in isolation
Brittle hair or nails
Effects of Anorexia
Severe calorie restrictions can have dangerous consequences on the body. Some of these include severe mood swings and depression; poor memory; extreme weakness; dry yellowish skin and brittle nails; tooth and gum damage; constipation and bloating; dizziness, headaches, and fainting spells; and fine hair all over the face and body.
The first priority is to handle and stabilize serious health issues, if any. If the child is dangerously malnourished, hospitalization may be necessary until a less critical weight is reached.
A nutritionist or dietician will have to be consulted regarding a meal plan to attain a normal, healthy body weight. The child will also need advice on healthy eating and proper nutrition.
Counseling and Therapy
Counseling is a crucial part of anorexia treatment. The first step is to identify the negative thoughts and feelings that fuel the disorder. The second step is to replace these with positive body image and self-image and to teach the child to deal with negative emotions in a productive rather than self-destructive way.