Although girls and women are most often affected, boys and men can also suffer from anorexia nervosa. The first symptoms of anorexia nervosa often begin by the teenage years, but for some, the illness does not begin until adulthood. People who develop anorexia nervosa are often "perfectionists" and tend to push themselves to achieve difficult goals. Anorexia nervosa sometimes develops following a stressful or upsetting event (for example, the loss of a relationship, a difficult move, or life change).
Do people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as thin?
Most people with anorexia nervosa do not see themselves accurately and lose perspective about their own body size or shape. It is common for people with anorexia nervosa to experience "body image distortion" (another way of saying that they do not see or experience their bodies accurately). Usually, people with anorexia nervosa will compare themselves with others and imagine that other people are thinner.
Is anorexia nervosa related to sexual abuse?
Anorexia nervosa is not necessarily related to sexual abuse. Most people who develop anorexia nervosa have never been sexually abused and it can be harmful to mistakenly assume that they have been. However, it is true that a large number of people with anorexia nervosa have been subjected to sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences. For those people, feelings about body weight and shape may become fused with painful feelings and memories of abuse.
Is anorexia nervosa related to low self-esteem?
If a person has low self-esteem (feels bad about themself), he or she may try to do something to feel better. Because in most modern societies, being slim is considered desirable, people will sometimes try to lose weight in an effort to feel better about themselves. If a person with low self-esteem who begins to diet and lose weight is also a "perfectionist", there is a danger that he or she might become preoccupied with weight loss. For some, this will develop into anorexia nervosa.
Do people recover from anorexia nervosa?
Yes, most people do make a good recovery from anorexia nervosa; however, it often takes a long time. Although some people can make a quick recovery, particularly if they get help soon after the symptoms are first present, others may suffer for many years before they return to good health. Some people who develop anorexia nervosa go on to have persistent illness, and are at high risk of physical problems due to chronic malnutrition and poor general health.
What physical problems accompany anorexia nervosa?
Because people with anorexia nervosa do not get enough nutrients in their bodies, a number of physical problems occur. Bones often become brittle and easy to break due to inadequate calcium, phosphorus, and hormones. Heart problems often happen, causing chest pain, and in some cases, the heart can stop beating properly. It is also common for people with anorexia nervosa to become infertile during (and sometimes after) the illness. People with anorexia nervosa often feel cold, weak, and may have difficulty sleeping at night. The best treatment for these and other physical problems involves improved nutrition and regular treatment from doctors and other health professionals.