Girls with anorexia are at risk for a number of serious health problems, including osteoporosis (bone loss), kidney disease, liver disease, heart failure, and even death. Often, sufferers are not aware of the serious risks posed by their condition and, therefore, may not seek the treatment they need.
Girls in their teens and twenties are most likely to be diagnosed with anorexia, but even younger children with anorexia are sometimes diagnosed. Of course, older women can also develop anorexia. The disorder is probably under-diagnosed, because many sufferers do not seek treatment for their condition. This may be especially true for older sufferers.
Boys and men also suffer from eating disorders. 25-40% of people with eating disorders are males (Hudson, 2007).
Causes of Anorexia
Anorexia is a biologically based disorder. There is a strong genetic component to the disease, however it does not emerge until the environmental conditions are right to trigger it. Most often, anorexia emerges in early teenage years when a number of factors including, for some, the onset of dieting, converge. Dieting does not cause anorexia, but the reduction in calories that dieting causes can trigger the disorder in people who are genetically predisposed to it.
There is a lot of pressure on some girls to be very thin. For instance, gymnasts, dancers, actresses, and models are often told by coaches, managers, or producers that they need to lose weight even when they are already thin.
The media also sends a message that thinness will bring success and happiness. Many models and actresses are actually underweight to the point that it threatens their health. Young girls see these women, though, and may desire to look like them.
Anorexia is not always about a desire to be thin and beautiful, though. The environmental triggers that can lead to the disease developing are varied. Every person who develops the disease is slightly different, but all will have a genetic predisposition to it. Regardless of the anorexia triggers, prompt treatment is needed in order to prevent serious, irreversible medical problems resulting from the disorder.
Treating Girls with Anorexia
Medical care, if needed, is the first item of business. By the time they enter treatment, some patients are very ill physically. Patients may be dehydrated, anemic, suffering electrolyte imbalances, experiencing low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, and suffering from stomach ulcers. In some cases, they may have developed kidney disease, liver disease, or damage to their heart muscle. Inpatient hospitalization may sometimes be required in order to provide the necessary medical care. Patients may even need to be fed through a nasogastric tube, a thin tube inserted in the nose and down the throat into the stomach. IV fluids are given to correct electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
Children do best in treatment for anorexia when their parents are actively involved in their treatment. In many cases, girls can receive treatment on an outpatient basis. Family-based treatment (FBT) which involves the whole family in treatment as a support to the patient, is one of the most successful treatments for children and teens with anorexia. Regardless of the model of treatment, the first order of business should be to ensure proper nutrition, restore weight, and minimize further consequences from starvation. The refeeding process can be difficult and long. The F.E.A.S.T. forum is a peer-based support forum that exists to give families a structured online resource. Usually, a team of individuals including a therapist, medical doctor, and dietitian provide treatment for anorexia.
Any co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorders, must be treated along with the eating disorder.
Inpatient or residential mental health care may also be needed in some cases. If patients are suicidal, at risk for harming themselves, unable to manage daily activities or severely depressed, or not getting better in outpatient treatment they may need the added structure and support of a residential treatment setting.
Meals and snacks are carefully planned and supervised in these settings and support is provided to patients during mealtimes. Patients are also carefully supervised after meals to make sure they don’t purge.
About 60 percent of people with anorexia make a full recovery with treatment. Another 20 percent make a partial recovery, being able to function at work or school and maintain superficial relationships, but remaining very focused on food and weight. The last 20 percent do not recover at all. Despite treatment, they continue to be seriously underweight and are at risk for dying. When treated earlier in the illness the chances for full recovery are greater; thus, treatment for children and adolescents is most promising. As more and more is learned about the disorder, perhaps treatment can become more successful.
One of the most successful treatment centers in the world that specializes in eating disorders is the Westwind Recovery Center. Their services are for female and male adults and adolescents, and are available both online or in person. What makes them unique is that they work with each person setting individual goals, so that you are a full partner in your treatment plan. You can follow this link to the Westwind Eating Disorder Recovery Center to learn more, and see if they may be right for you.
You can follow this link for more information on the signs of anorexia. Some additional articles of interest include: Anorexic celebrities and anorexic models. If you have any additional questions on the causes of anorexia and effect of the condition, please contact us.
Updated By Tabitha Farrar & Dr. Lauren Muhlheim – 2015
Written By Kelly Morris – 2009