Beyond Physical Appearances: A Guide to Anorexia

Anorexia Nervosa affects 8 Million Americans, or about one in two hundred women. Around 90% of anorexia sufferers are female. Once characterized as a disease that only affected upper class white women, today it is clear that anorexia is not specific to any class or race. According to the DSM, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, two distinct types characterize Anorexia; cases that involve regular binge eating or purging and those that do not. Cases can involve refusal to maintain a minimum normal weight for age and height, a fear of weight gain (even while underweight), disproportionate influence of body shape on self esteem, or the absence of at least 3 consecutive menstrual cycles in females. These symptoms can have an impact on a person's relationships, dating, and personal life.


The causes of anorexia are varied. There are no precise causes of the disease, however their are several factors that can put people at a higher risk. Traditionally many sufferers are overachievers or perfectionists. Also. taking up a diet regimen to lose a few pounds can sometimes spiral into excessive weight loss. Additionally, the current media trend has developed impossible standards of beauty and emphasizes being thin as an integral part of beauty. Research suggests there may be hereditary causes. For those with no pre-disposition, family and social causes can be involved. Trauma and stress can be a factor, as well as brain chemistry specifically neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine.

Treatment & Recovery

Anorexia always requires treatment. Some cases may respond positively to medication. Many cases respond to psychotherapy. Some research suggests that family based, as opposed to individual treatment, works better. As self-esteem can be a causal factor in anorexia, treatment can focus on improving self esteem and removing the association between 'thinness' and self-esteem.

Anorexia & Athletes

Many anorexia sufferers are athletes; especially in sports that place an emphasis on thin body types such as figure skating, or gymnastics. A high percentage of athletes suffer from eating disorders, especially female athletes.

Male Anorexia

Though anorexia predominantly affects females it can also affect males. Studies have shown about 1 in 6 of those who suffer with a poor body image are male. Even though male anorexia is on the rise it often goes un-diagnosed because of stereotypes. Because of these factors, it is very possible that the statistics regarding male anorexia are being under-reported.

Other Eating Disorders

Anorexia is sometimes confused with other eating disorders, like bulimia. Other eating disorders however are less known. Eating only certain foods, or completely abstaining from certain food groups characterizes Selective Eating Disorder. Some children never grow out of being fussy eaters, or never learn to eat their vegetables. Many eating disorders involve binge-eating, which is eating a lot of food over a short period of time, often as a reaction to excessive or improper dieting.  Orthorexia Nervosa is an obsession with health foods and their supposed ability to improve health.

Eating Disorder Help 

The following are links to organizations and information about eating disorders.

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