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Anorexia Nervosa (nutrition and Psychology Related)

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Alan Varatta

HED: Nutrition

Anorexia nervosa is a life threatening eating disorder defined by a refusal to maintain fifteen percent of a normal body weight through self-starvation (Arnold, page26). Ninety-five percent of anorexics are women between the ages of twelve and eighteen, however, " the past twenty years, this disorder has become a growing threat to high school and college students (Arnold, page 39)". Anorexia produces a multitude of symptoms, and if not treated, anorexia can lead to permanent physical damage or death.

Anorexic behavior is complex because it is all about the need for control. Someone suffering from anorexia has a distorted body image of himself or herself. He/she believes to be overweight, even though twenty percent of the time he/she is not (Hall, page 18). The image of being overweight causes a low self-esteem. Symptoms of low self-esteem are loneliness, inadequacy in talents, a lack of trust in people and themselves, insecurity, identification with a specific peer group, and sadness (Pettit, page 41). The media displays the ideal human body as thin and beautiful. Anorexic's lives are full of confusion and lack of control. To the anorexic, to be thin is to be in control. The state of control to the anorexic is the ideal life without confusion and difficulties. In most cases, the anorexic is intelligent; popular among his/her peers, athletic, talented, and viewed as a role model to most people he/she comes in contact with (Hall, page 71). In reality, the issues in daily living are too difficult for the anorexic resulting in a lack of control in his/her life. The anorexic's answer to a confusing life is to starve the body. The behavioral symptoms of the anorexia are counting calories, eating little food, baking treats for everyone and giving them away in hope of controlling not only the anorexic's intake of his/her food, but also others (Arnold, page 53). "Playing" with food at meal times is common behavior of the anorexic. When the meal is complete, the anorexic has disguised food intake by pushing the food around on the plate and hiding food in napkins. To dress in layers to hide the distinct weight loss and to avoid social activities where eating is involved are common behavioral symptoms (Pettit, page 62). Behavioral symptoms of the anorexic can go unnoticed by most people. These symptoms are very secretive and oblivious to outsiders because the behavior is not out of the ordinary. Although the behavioral symptoms of the anorexic appear to be ordinary, the sum of the behaviors is dangerous because it leads to physical and psychological symptoms that is life threatening.

Severe symptoms of anorexia are classified as such because they result in devastating physical side effects and death. The dropping of body fat due to self-starvation can cause amenorrhea, an absence of the menstrual cycle (Hall, page 46). Amenorrhea can put stress on tiny bones that result in breakage if untreated and can interfere with fertility as well as estrogen, the reproductive hormone that protects the body against heart diseases and osteoporosis (Hall, page 52). The absence of the menstrual cycle from starvation can cause loss of bone density. Osteomalacia, the outcome of poor nutrition in anorexia, causes breakage of bones, and the lack of calcium intake to the body results in brittle bones (Hall, page 79). Kidneys will shut down if the body weight becomes low enough. The anorexic will go into kidney failure and die. Kidney failure is also caused by dehydration because inadequate fluid flowing to the kidneys can lead to cardiac arrhythmia (Hall, page 82). A normal heartbeat is also essential to the human body. A change in the normal pattern of the heartbeat may be a complication of an electrolyte imbalance produced from anorexia. The principal reason for potassium loss and an irregular heartbeat is an electrolyte imbalance. As a result of potassium deficiency, it is common to have muscle spasms, muscle atrophy, and pain (Hall, page 84). Muscle spasms and muscle atrophy are typical symptoms of a musculoskeletal problem, and if not treated, permanent damage can occur (Hall, page 87). Other severe physical symptoms that may be permanent are the judgment of the brain. The neurotransmitters of the brain can be altered, leaving the perception affected. Hypothermia can occur due to the loss of fat tissue from starvation. An anorexic suffering from hypothermia has a slow reaction time, is clumsy, lethargic, has blurred thinking, and hallucinations. The severe symptoms of hypothermia can produce the anorexic to wander off, fall down or die. Malnutrition can affect the brain and the central nervous system by slowing down the anorexic's thinking process and making the anorexic delirious and forgetful Pettit, page 75). If this malnutrition continues and is not treated with proper nutrition, the malnutrition can lead to permanent brain damage. In the body's reaction to the lowered intake of calories, the body's heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature drops (Pettit, page 79). This is the only attempt the body can make to survive in response to the starvation of an anorexic body. There is a direct correlation to the severe physical symptoms in the anorexic and the psychological changes that follows.

Psychological symptoms in the anorexic can lead to depression. Depression in anorexia far exceeds the feelings of every day sadness or grief. The healthy body can recover in a short time whereas the anorexic body cannot. The anorexic suffers from guilt and shame. Even though the anorexic may have lost fifteen percent of his/her body weight and is emaciated (thin), the anorexic continues to feel shameful about the state of being overweight9Arnold, page 59). Guilt from consuming any food is a result of a loss of control to the anorexic. The anorexic loses hope from his/her sense of failure to control his/her eating. Obsessive thoughts and preoccupation with the anorexic's unhealthy physical state and obsessive rituals of the eating pattern occurs because he/she is in a vicious cycle of lack of control in his/her life.



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