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A Distorted Body Image in Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa

Distorted body image perception is common in anorexia

Anorexia Nervosa is a form of an eating disorder that manifests a distorted perception about a person's body image. It mainly involves the intense fear of gaining weight with the maladaptive behavior consisting of an overwhelming desire to become thin. As a result, adverse effects to the health occurs which give rise to the development of complications like cardiac arrest, kidney damage, liver damage and even death. About 90% of eating disorder patients are female and the risk for hospitalization is higher as compared with males.

Anorexia was first documented by Richard Morton in 1964. He has patients who were women experiencing decreased appetite, food aversion and amenorrhea. Together with Sir William Gull, Morton documented the symptoms of these patients. Gull later introduced the term anorexia for the condition.

The disorder is an extreme response to various factors involving the biological and psychological aspect of the individual. It may also involve social and cultural elements, although the cultural pressure and influence to be thin is viewed as a major causative factor for this distorted behavior. Anorexic have the tendency to feel an overwhelming compulsion in controlling weight as a means of coping with emotional stress and other distressing conditions.

What are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

The maladaptive behavior of the individual to eating and body image can lead to the manifestation of destructive eating patterns, self-destructive behavior and symptoms. These are commonly viewed as coping mechanisms to various stressful conditions.

  • Setting own standard of ideal weight that is far below the normal weight range
  • Fear of getting fat
  • Engagement to unhealthy dietary practices.
  • Inducing weight loss like self induce vomiting and using laxatives.
  • Obsession in limiting food intake
  • Distorted self perception of being fat
  • Over exercise and hyperactivity
  • Low self-esteem
  • Observing overly strict low-calorie diet every day
  • Starving oneself
  • Obsessed with using the weighing scale several times a day to monitor weight
  • Avoidance of eating in public places
  • Feeling extreme guilt after eating
  • Feeling depressed upon gaining weight or breaking one's own self-imposed dietary rules

How is Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosed?

In diagnosing anorexia nervosa, ruling out other medical condition is a must. Doctors usually explore the possibility of the presence of cancer and metabolic problems, poor nutrition and psychological disorders. The following are the diagnostic conditions for anorexia nervosa:

  • The person's weight is usually 85% or lower the minimum weight standard by age.
  • The feeling of being fat despite of being underweight
  • There is a denial of having an undernourished body
  • Females usually have missed menstrual periods of three consecutive cycles.

Other non-specific forms of Anorexia Nervosa are also identified. They are characterized based on their unusual behavior of controlling body weight. This includes the restrictive type that involves the behavior of limiting food intake but without purging, and the binge eating disorder that manifests a purging behavior like performing self induce vomiting and using laxatives for weight loss.

Treatment options for Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a self destructive behavior with the dangerous implication of developing other forms of ailments and medical conditions. The treatment approach consists of reducing the self destructive thoughts and unhealthy weight loss practices of the individual. Promoting a healthy eating habit and developing positive self perception are also integrated in the intervention. Treatment options are available for anorexia nervosa and the option will depend upon the extent of the destructive behavior and the patient response to treatment.

  • Psychological intervention or therapy

 The intervention aims to eliminate the destructive eating behavior and modifying eating patterns. It also involves identifying common stressful conditions that may encourage the behavior. Motivation skills are taught to help prevent relapse of the condition.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

This consists of psycho-education intervention, therapeutic approach in self monitoring, normalizing eating behavior and positive response to treatment. Cognitive restructuring is also taught, such as identifying maladaptive thinking and overcoming stressful situations. The person also learns problem solving skills to cope with stress.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy

 Among the benefits derived from dialectical behavior therapy are the reduction of self harming behaviors, resistance to treatment, dissociative behavior and impulsiveness. The person learns various techniques in coping with emotional and distressing conditions without resorting to the maladaptive behavior of eating as a coping mechanism.

When to get treatment for anorexia nervosa

Anorexia is a self destructive condition that should be diagnosed at the early signs of the conditions. Corrective eating behavior should be introduced to prevent the resulting complications arising from an unhealthy eating behavior and obsession of losing weight. Anorexics have distorted body image, thereby resorting to unhealthy eating habits in order to control their life and their emotions. Normal persons usually regard their self esteem more than their weight. Anorexics, on the other hand, are likely to gauge their self esteem based on how thin they are. They tend to have a high disregard about their health with the primary concern of getting thin.

If you are an anorexic, it is important to see your doctor immediately. There is help for your condition and the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. It helps to talk to someone about your problem and get an immediate treatment before you develop adverse complications to your health.