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We don't know the exact causes of anorexia nervosa. But we do think that genetics and hormonal balances may play a big role.
Society could also be an important factor. For example, in the United States, we do have a social standard for what looks attractive. Lots of female celebrities and models, in magazines, have these really stick-skinny bodies. It influences what other girls believe is attractive.
I say "girls," because anorexia affects more girls than boys. But there are some boys who go through it, too!
We used to believe that family conflicts increased the likelihood that a child would develop anorexia. But that is actually no longer believed to be true.
Anorexia nervosa is a very psychologically-rooted disorder. So, many of the symptoms are very psychological.
A person with anorexia has a HUGE, irrational fear of gaining weight, or becoming fat.
They refuse to be in their normal body weight range. They consider the normal weight range too high.
They like to cut their food into small pieces and play around with it, instead of eating it.
They'll also refuse, or be very reluctant, to eat around other people.
They exercise a lot. Exercise is good, but not when we're underweight and are not eating enough. People with anorexia may exercise compulsively. They'll go out of their way to get in lots of exercise, so that they can remain thin.
Some people with anorexia will take laxatives to force themselves to poop. Or they'll take diet pills, to lessen their appetite.
And of course, many people with anorexia will experience depression, and a low sense of self worth.
Anorexia already revolves around an inadequate sense of self worth.
But when a person is not getting enough energy out of their diet, is too preoccupied with their weight to do anything that they enjoy, and is never satisfied with their body image, it creates a downward spiral that makes the depression worse and worse.
In addition to these psychological symptoms, there are also a few physical symptoms.
They tend to have blotchy, yellow skin, because of severe malnutrition.
They'll have little to no body fat, because their bodies will have burned away all the fat, for lack of food.
They'll also have a very low muscle mass, because after our bodies burn all of our fat, they'll start burning our muscles, for energy. (If this goes on for too long, we die.)
They'll have low blood pressure.
This is because people with anorexia get to a point where they're not getting enough iron, into their bodies.
Without enough iron, our blood cannot hold oxygen.
And without enough oxygen, our hearts cannot pump properly.
Treatment for people with anorexia nervosa can be very expansive, because there are a lot of problems that need to be taken care of.
The cause of the first problem is that most people with anorexia deny that they have an eating disorder. In many cases, they won't get help until their condition become VERY severe, and very bad.
So, many of these people end up having to go to the hospital, where they are treated for heart problems, severe malnutrition, and low blood pressure.
And, of course, since anorexia is a psychological disorder, psychotherapy is a very valuable treatment option.
In psychotherapy, people with anorexia hopefully come to accept that their bodies are not within the normal weight range, and that it is very unhealthy to remain so thin.
Working with their psychotherapist, and/or an nutritionist, these people can plan out an eating schedule, so that they can start getting in their proper meals.
They may also be encouraged to participate in more social activity, in order to alleviate symptoms of depression.