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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa Overview

Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness. People with this condition have an extreme preoccupation with food and body image: They don't eat, diet excessively, or otherwise eat far too little to maintain health. Despite being underweight, they often have anxiety related to the belief that they are overweight and continue to try to lose weight. While the syndrome is more common in girls and women compared to boys and men, it is now understood to affect more boys and men than previously thought. Statistics indicate that anorexia most often begins between 13-30 years of age. The numbers of children and adolescents with an eating disorder have steadily increased in the United States since the 1950s. The long-term effects and medical complications brought about by this psychiatric disorder can be severe and even fatal.

Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder that involves a preoccupation with food and body image. However, characteristics of people with bulimia tend to be that they are of normal weight, binge eat within a discrete period of time, and have trouble controlling the urge to binge. They then try to compensate for (undo) the binge in an unhealthy way, by practices such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of medications, fasting, or exercising excessively.

As opposed to anorexia, binge eating disorder involves recurring episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food, along with a sense of feeling out of control at least weekly over three or more months. It may also involve strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt. Binge eating disorder is much less common than pure overeating and is usually associated with many more physical and mental-health effects.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/7/2014

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Anorexia Nervosa »

Richard Morton first described anorexia nervosa more than 300 years ago, in 1689, as a condition of "a Nervous Consumption" caused by "sadness, and anxious Cares."

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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