Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic mental health illness under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic, anorexia is “characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.” Teens going through puberty and adolescence face hormonal changes, increased peer pressure, and often internalize criticisms about appearance, which can put teenagers at increased risk for developing anorexia. Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
Young people with anorexia may exhibit behaviors such as unreasonable and unhealthy habitual food restrictions, over-exercising, abusing diet pills, abusing laxatives, and/ or fasting. Engaging in this cycle of self-starvation often results in malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. Teenagers with anorexia become entirely preoccupied with accommodating their disease. However, it is difficult to describe what it’s like to live with anorexia, as each person is unique and will present with distinct symptoms and a nuanced experience. When attempting to understand the effects of anorexia it is first helpful to look at the common signs and symptoms that present with this disease. Signs a teenager is struggling with anorexia may include:
- Constantly weighing themselves
- Obsessively reading nutritional information
- Weight gain fears
- Eating only low-calorie foods
- Distorted body image
- Distracted and unable to concentrate
- Skipping meals
- Regularly making excuses not to eat
- Denying there is a problem despite excessive weight loss
An adolescent with anorexia may suffer from symptoms such as insomnia, abnormal blood counts, irregular heart rhythms, fatigue, dehydration, low blood pressure, and more. When a teen with anorexia becomes severely malnourished, every organ in his or her body can suffer irreparable damage. Further, studies have shown that starvation impacts one’s brain functioning and one’s ability to make rational decisions. In turn, restrictive eating behaviors are perpetuated and returning to healthy/ normal eating habits become increasingly difficult.
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