What is anorexia nervosa? Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that has two different types. The first type is restrictive which involves fasting, dieting, and excessive exercising (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). And the second type is binge-eating/purging which involves binge eating and using laxatives or self-induced vomiting to prevent gaining weight (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Anorexia is known to be most prevalent in women (there is a 10:1 female to male ratio) but men can still suffer from it too (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). So, about 5% to 10% of the cases are of men and it typically affects athletes that emphasize the lean body type like ballet (Garner, 1993). Anorexia typically begins between the ages of 11 and 15 years old (Ratnasuriya, Eisler, Szmukler, and Russell, 1991).
Various predisposing factors may lead to anorexia. One of those being the increase in the media for wanting thin body types (Garner and Garfinkel, 1980). Society went from loving curvy Marilyn Monroe to dieting to try to be like Kylie Jenner. There is also this idea that losing weight will solve all of our problems as Garner and Garfinkel (1980) found in their study, participants believed that losing weight would help their feelings of inadequacy. I also personally have seen how friends and family are a factor in causing this. When I was 15 years old, my friend and I would ‘compete’ to see who weighed less each week. We wanted to be the skinniest and it was mostly because we’d heard from family growing up that we weren’t pretty enough for not being skinny enough. I can only imagine how many other impressionable girls heard similar things from people that were supposed to love them unconditionally and with no judgment, growing up.
But as if all that weren’t enough, various mental disorders are comorbid with anorexia. Anorexia tends to increase depression, anxiety, introversion that leads to antisociality, and becoming obsessed (e.g., with calories) (Garner and Garfinkel, 1980). But also, an increase in developing phobias and personality disorders (Steinhausen, 2002). Aside from the mental disorders’ comorbidity, physical illnesses are also likely to arise. People with anorexia can suffer from hair loss, acne, yellowing of the skin, diabetes, etc., and to those who induce vomiting, they may also have Russel’s sign which is scarring in the hand that is used to cause the gag reflex (Mitchell and Crow, 2006). People with anorexia are also at suicide risk. About 12 per every 100,000 people with anorexia commit suicide a year (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Anorexia has 12 times higher death rates in females aged 15-24 than any other cause of death (Sullivan, 1995).
I decided to write about anorexia because it is a disorder that has affected too many people I know. Some of the articles that were mentioned throughout were from the 80s and 90s and it is surprising how all of that information is still relevant. I know that there have been more breakthroughs about the disorder but seeing how long this disorder has affected people is scary. I wish that in the future society and the media just stops idolizing one body type and instead embrace all of them. And embrace all of the imperfections like stretch marks and cellulite, because if we continue to advertise the damaging diet culture and idolizing bodies from celebrities that used plastic surgery to get there (which I am not shaming, just the lies claiming that it is natural) then the future generations will suffer the same as we do. Suffer from being unhappy with their bodies. If you are struggling with an eating disorder (or a disorder of any kind) please ask for help.
Visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline call or text (800) 931-2237 to reach the helpline.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
Garner, D. M. (1993). Pathogenesis of anorexia nervosa. The Lancet, 341, 1631-1640.
Garner, D. M. & Garfinkel, P. E. (1980). Socio-cultural factors in the development of anorexia nervosa. Psychological Medicine, 10, 647-656.
Mitchell, J.E., & Crow, S. (2006). Medical complications of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Curr Opin Psychiatry, 19, 438-443.
Ratnasuriya, R. H., Eisler, I., Szmukler G. I., & Russell, G. F. M. (1991). Anorexia nervosa: outcome and prognostic factors after 20 years. British Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 495-502.
Steinhausen, H. C. (2002). Anorexia nervosa in the 20th century. Am J Psychiatry, 159, 1284-1293.
Sullivan, P. F. (1995). Mortality in anorexia nervosa. Am J Psychiatry, 152:7, 1073-1074.