A life-threatening condition has increased to epidemic proportions in America during the 1990’s. Thousands of adolescent girls and young adult women have fallen prey to Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexics are obsessed with thoughts of becoming “thin” even when they are already so thin their body hardly casts a shadow. So they pursue “thinness” by a severely restricted diet and overly vigorous activity. In the process they often become anxious, fixated, guilt-ridden and dangerously underweight.
The high-risk population for Anorexia Nervosa includes adolescent females between 12 and 18 years of age. Within this age group, as many as one girl in every 250 may develop this debilitating disorder. Mortality rates now exceed 5%, and women account for 95% of the cases.
The majority of anorexics come from middle to upper-middle class families. Their fathers frequently hold professional positions and they enjoy all the conveniences of modern living. They usually attend the very best schools. Often, their families value physical fitness, and one or both parents will generally be on a diet. Mothers and sisters of anorexics frequently suffer from related eating disorders and place value on a slim appearance for family members.
During childhood the anorexic is typically described as a model daughter who accepts all the family values and attempts to fulfill everyone’s expectations. She is usually highly intelligent, but may be self-critical toward her school performance. Anorexics tend toward extreme perfectionism. She is competitive, yet somehow socially
reserved, at times even shy. Although she usually relates well to her friends, these relationships are often superficial.
The anorexic’s initial decision to diet in order to improve her appearance is consistent with the family’s value of a slim appearance. Over time she begins to demonstrate a subtle, sick preoccupation with dieting. She begins to develop a distorted body image and see herself as heavier than she really is. Paranoia about gaining weight is common. She develops anxiety about eating and becomes obsessed with an overly strict diet and strenuous exercise program. Often insomnia may develop.
Once the anorexic begins to fall below a healthy weight she will enter a sustained battle with her family. She may begin to limit the effect of meals by vomiting and consuming laxatives. She experiences the cessation of menstruation. When the anorexia becomes acute there are a myriad of psychological and physiological consequences, often
serious enough to threaten mental balance and physical wellbeing. Anorexia Nervosa can be a life and death matter.
Clients who suffer from this eating disorder require professional intervention. Hospitalization may be indicated if any one of the following criteria is present:
- Low weight (loss of more than 25% of body weight; lower percentage if rate of loss is very rapid, or if the person is under 18 years of age)
- Low serum potassium level, from self-induced vomiting and/or
- Severely depressed mood and suicidal thoughts or intent
- Failure to respond to a well-designed outpatient treatment plan
There is hope and help for those experiencing this devastating disorder. The Sagemont Counseling Center offers a Christ-centered treatment program for clients who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa. Call 281-481-8770, ext. 2763, for a confidential assessment.