Anorexia nervosa is a serious psychiatric condition that has the highest mortality rate amongst all psychological disorders. It is characterized by low body weight (for age and sex), severe restriction of food intake, an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, and a distortion in which one’s weight or shape is experienced. Some individuals maintain a low body weight by restricting their food intake, some by engaging in excessive exercise, and some by using compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative, diuretic or diet pill use. Two subtypes are recognized in DSM-5: restrictive anorexia nervosa and binge-purge anorexia nervosa.
Extreme weight loss in people with anorexia nervosa can lead to dangerous health problems (including osteoporosis, infertility, heart and kidney dysfunction, growth retardation in children) and even death.
Typically anorexia nervosa begins in adolescence (age 14-18), but can occur even earlier. Diagnoses are nine to ten times more common in females than in males, but some of this discrepancy may be related to challenges with identifying eating disorders in males.
Associated psychological problems, including depression and anxiety, are often reported by individuals who are underweight and can manifest in a variety of ways such as social withdrawal, irritability, and insomnia.
Effective interventions for anorexia nervosa include cognitive behavioral therapy and family-based treatment. The outcome of treatment for anorexia nervosa varies considerably. For some, a single course of treatment is effective, while other recovery paths are punctuated by shifts from weight gain and recovery to weight loss and relapse.