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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat