Many clinicians like to believe that they can make a psychiatric diagnosis just by looking at a person, a hazardous endeavor given how appearances can be so deceiving. One exception is Anorexia Nervosa — few clinicians can forget the unnerving sight of a young woman who, despite resembling a concentration camp victim, refuses to eat because she is afraid of turning into a “blob.” Public awareness of the existence and grave danger of Anorexia Nervosa has increased over the past years with the revelation of some tragic celebrity cases such as Karen Carpenter and a number of gymnasts and ballet dancers.
Unfortunately, this condition is not rare and rates have been steadily increasing over the past few decades. In a sense, Anorexia Nervosa is the most extreme manifestation of the clash between our culture’s obsession with thinness and the ready availability of food.
For those with Anorexia Nervosa, the goal of maintaining a thin body becomes the very centerpiece of existence, a value that takes precedence over everything else, including health, survival, sex, and even being beautiful.
It is critical to recognize the signs and symptoms of Anorexia early in the game, because terrible outcomes are much more easily prevented with prompt intervention. Unfortunately, awareness of the problem by friends and family members is only half the battle. Many people with this condition are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge that their bodies are disappearing, despite the alarm expressed by everyone around them and the unmistakable tale of the tape and scale. If you are reading this article because other people are on your case about your low weight, please keep an open mind about the possibility that you may be on the road to starving yourself to death. Also remember that a characteristic hallmark of this condition is denial and an unfortunate inability to see the dangers before it is too late to respond to them.
According to the diagnostic manual, you have Anorexia Nervosa if :
- – Your intense fear of becoming fat results in your weight being much lower than it should be.
- – Your experience of your body is distorted in one of the following ways: You still feel fat despite being clearly underweight; you ignore the serious health consequences of your low weight; or your sense of self-worth depends almost completely on your body weight or shape.
- – You have stopped having menstrual cycles.