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Anorexia Nervosa (Slimmer's Disease)

This worrying condition is seen primarily in adolescent children - and most frequently in girls. It often begins in efforts to slim, the girl's intake of food being reduced more and more until she is virtually eating nothing and becomes very thin, but still does not see herself as thin enough. She develops a distorted image of her own body, and is not able to realize that she is harming her health, as well as spoiling. rather than enhancing her appearance. The sufferer from anorexia nervosa will go to extraordinary lengths to restrict intake of food - for example, hiding food and the deliberate vomiting of food already eaten.

Causes and consequences of anorexia nervosa

Girls - and boys - suffering from this condition tend to have a somewhat neurotic personality. They set very high standards for themselves, and any failure to reach their idea of perfection results in much heart-searching. This attitude extends to their search for an 'ideal', slim body. Fear of failure in any undertaking also plays a part in the onset of the disease. In fact, specific criticism may he the final precipitating factor in the food refusal - for example, a chance joking remark from a school-fellow about fatness, or a failure to win a hockey match or an athletic event.

Failure to eat an adequate, nutritious diet can lead to metabolic upset and serious illness. In spite of appearing to have a super-abundance of energy, the child is living off bodily reserves and in the very advanced stages. the body chemistry is irreversibly upset. Death can result if urgent action is not taken.

Treatment for anorexia nervosa

Urgent counselling by a psychiatrist is needed in the early stages of the disease to prevent progression to the later, extremely serious, stage. Personality problems and worries in relation to adaption to situations and with other people must be sorted out. The girl must be helped to understand her own problems so that she can begin to help herself on to the road to normality again. Much loving understanding and support from family and friends will be needed.

If the condition has become ingrained and the girl can in no way be persuaded to eat normally, hospitalization is necessary so that the chemical imbalance can be restored to normal and a minimal dietary intake ensured - intravenously if necessary. Following this correction of the immediate physical effects of the starvation - for that is what is happening - skilled psychiatric help is needed to identify and treat the underlying problem.

Anorexia nervosa is an extremely serious and worrying condition, and one of which every mother, of teenage girls in particular, should be aware. Slimming crazes are a norm in the teenage years. But it is the over-conscientious, often highly intelligent, girl who can become so obsessed with losing weight that she is all set for anorexia nervosa. This possibility must be recognized early. and preventive action taken.

     
     

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