Anorexia Nervosa

Frequently Asked Questions: Anorexia Nervosa

Here are some frequently asked questions related to anorexia.

Q: Is anorexia nervosa really more common than it used to be, or is it just being identified more?

A: Both are true. The number of people with anorexia nervosa does appear to be increasing along with society’s increasing obsession with thinness and losing weight. However, anorexia nervosa, along with other eating disorders, is also being recognized more by clinicians. And because the disorder is better known and understood by society and there is more help available, more people with anorexia nervosa are seeking help.

Q: Are depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and substance abuse more common in people with anorexia nervosa?

A: Yes. All three of these disorders occur more often in people with anorexia nervosa than in the general population. At this point it is not clear whether the overlap is due to genetic causes.

Q: What is the relationship between sexual abuse and anorexia nervosa?

A: People who have been sexually abused are more vulnerable to developing anorexia nervosa. Preoccupation with food and weight can move the focus away from the abuse and the accompanying painful feelings. Control over eating and weight may replace the lack of control experienced during abuse. Anorexia nervosa may also be a way to make one’s body less attractive to possible abusers.

Q: What is the role of exercise in anorexia nervosa?

A: People with anorexia nervosa use exercise as a key way to keep their weight very low. It also helps decrease guilt that may occur with eating. Like dieting, excessive exercising is used as a means of self-control and avoiding painful emotional issues and may take time away from interacting with other people.For a person who does not eat enough, exercising keeps the body in a state of deprivation. This increases the chance of developing other health problems, including dehydration, fluid imbalances, injuries, and heart problems, and slows the healing process.

Q: What are some issues specific to males with anorexia nervosa?

A: The reasons that males develop anorexia nervosa and the behaviors and feelings they experience are similar to those of females with the disorder. However, because anorexia nervosa is mainly considered a female disorder, males are more likely to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. They are also likely to experience more shame and guilt than females about having anorexia nervosa and feel even less well understood than females with the disorder. In addition, most of the available information, treatment programs, and support groups are focused on females.

Q: How can anorexia nervosa affect relationships?

A: Anorexia nervosa can lead to isolation in a number of ways. Because so much attention is focused on issues with eating and weight, the person has much less time for relationships. When interacting with others, discussions tend to focus on eating and weight. In addition, since many social gatherings center on food, people with anorexia nervosa often get caught up in their food issues when with others rather than relating with the people around them.

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