A distorted self-image that can lead to death: Anorexia

IT CAN take a psychiatric nurse an entire lunchtime to persuade an anorexic teenager to eat five peas on a plate.

Staff in adolescent units have become adept at finding food hidden in clothing or about the ward. Treatment programmes for anorexics are usually strictly controlled.

Their fear of getting fat is so overwhelming that they fiercely resent pressure to make them eat. Up to 10 per cent will eventually starve to death or commit suicide.

Although skeletally thin and dangerously underweight, their self-image can be so distorted that they believe that at best they are of normal weight, or at worst that they are obese.

Their beliefs about how food can make them gain weight are also faulty. Most are genuinely frightened that one small meal will make them enormous.

Anorexia nervosa affects about 1 in 100,000, mostly women. But among middle-class teenagers and young women, the rate may be 1 in 100, rising to one 1 in 20 among ballet dancers, models and athletes.

The cult of female thinness, going back to the fashions of the 1960s, is held by most experts to underpin anorexia, a culture so pervading that even little girls who need their calories for normal growth are 'on diets'.

A recent study of nine-year-olds found one in three thought they were overweight. Half of them were underweight for their age.

There is no wide agreement among psychiatrists and psychologists about the real nature of anorexia.

Some believe it is a true phobia about putting on weight, but many experts feel it is a manifestation of depression or a personality disorder, or even schizophrenia.

It is defined by the loss of a third or more of the body's weight with, initially, people being very active or exercising constantly.

With extreme weight loss, sufferers become weak. They grow fine body hair, called lanugo hair, while their normal hair thins and their skin dries. Women stop menstruating.

The young risk damage to sexual organs, the development of which is harmed by lack of nourishment. Eventually, in extreme cases, the liver and other organs sustain damage.

Some believe that the refusal to eat relates to children's problems with their parents, since the practice is almost guaranteed to make parents anxious and exert control.

Young anorexics are usually treated in hospital psychiatric units, with a range of psychological and family therapies being used to persuade them to return to a normal diet.

Relapse is common and full recovery can take many years of psychiatric care.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?