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Have you ever tried a vanilla custard cream cheesecake? What about a chocolate mousse pie? Mushroom ravioli? A spinach dip? For many of us, simply reading the names of such delicious foods makes our mouths water. Eating well is one of the decadent pleasures life has to offer. However, for some, this is not the case.

Imagine obsessively thinking about your body weight before even putting a morsel of food in your mouth. Counting every calorie is typical behavior for those who suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a disorder characterized by a fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, and refusal to eat. Approximately 90-95% of those who suffer from AN are girls and women; it typically occurs in early to mid-adolescence. Furthermore, about 5-20% of individuals are predicted to lose their lives battling this disorder.

There are many warning signs associated with AN, including endless dieting, skipped meals, abnormal weight loss,  intense fear of gaining weight, deliberate starvation, and/or hair loss. It is important to note that those who suffer from this disorder do get hungry; however, they choose to ignore it to avoid gaining weight, even if they are already within the bounds of healthy weight or lower. They refuse to eat even if they are constantly thinking about food. Counting calories, grams of fat, and the amount of exercise needed for every cookie are normal everyday thoughts for AN sufferers.

 Even a yummy cheesecake may not tempt a person who is suffering from anorexia nervosa.

Image Source: Stefan Cioata 

When a person who suffers from anorexia nervosa looks in the mirror, he or she does not see an accurate reflection of the person looking back. Oftentimes, anorexics may physically feel that their arms, thighs or stomachs are many times larger than their actual size. This distorted body image may even affect how people with anorexia move: in a frequently discussed study, researchers found that people with AN choose wider doorways than necessary in order to move through sideways.

Unsurprisingly, anorexia nervosa negatively impacts the health of afflicted individuals. As the amount of essential nutrients is lowered, the body is forced to conserve energy, leading to a slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, and the onset of osteoporosis. The heart can fail under this increased strain. Muscle weakness, dehydration and fatigue become common symptoms for AN sufferers. Thus, it is important to recognize the symptoms of anorexia and to get treatment.

There are many treatments and therapies that can help AN sufferers healthily gain back weight and improve their perspective on food and body image. Treatments include medical treatments, nutritional treatment, and counseling.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder, and it is important that we recognize the warning signs in order to help others, or even ourselves, in need. With treatments and support from family, more individuals can overcome this disorder. Who knows, in a few years, no one may have trouble choosing between a salad, a burger, or a cheesecake.  They might choose to enjoy all three!

Feature Image Source: 252/365: Anorexia Nervosa by Janine

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