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What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Even though anorexia nervosa (AN) was first recognized well over a century ago, this dangerous disorder continues to bewilder patients and their families, as well as challenge mental health clinicians and researchers. Hallmark symptoms of AN include weight loss or failure to gain weight (i.e., less than 85% of that expected for an individual's height and age), intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat despite a low body weight, and distorted perceptions of one's weight and shape.

Additional features of AN include a relentless pursuit of thinness and overvaluation of body shape, which usually results in extreme dietary restriction and physical activity. As a consequence of semi-starvation, pubescent females suffering from AN experience disruption or even cessation of their menstrual cycles. Often these symptoms are accompanied by an adolescent's denial of the seriousness of their illness, which can present a major obstacle to treatment. Above all, it should be cautioned that AN has a very high mortality rate, with common causes of death including complications of starvation and suicide.

Example of Anorexia Nervosa
Sophie is a 13 year-old 8th grader. Although she has always been somewhat conscious of her body image, primarily related to her longstanding and dedicated involvement with her school's gymnastics team, recently her family, friends, and teachers have begun to seriously worry about her health. In the past year, when Sophie entered puberty and started a growth spurt, she became preoccupied with her body weight and would often complain about being "so fat." Her family and friends were at first puzzled and then concerned as she began more and more restrictive dieting and increased both the frequency and strenuousness of her daily exercise routines. During meals with her family at home or at school with friends, she was often observed cutting her food into small pieces and moving it around on the plate. Rarely would she eat anything despite a great deal of encouragement and pleading from her parents. Despite the extreme fatigue and weakness Sophie felt from her extreme dieting, Sophie pushed herself harder and harder to exercise. One day her parents were horrified to discover that Sophie was no longer menstruating.

As can be seen below, family therapy currently has the most research evidence for the treatment of adolescents with anorexia nervosa.
What does this mean?
Probably Efficacious
What does this mean?
Possibly Efficacious
What does this mean?
Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa (AN)


Source: Keel, P. K., & Haedt, A. (2008). Evidence-based psychosocial treatments for eating problems and eating disorders. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37, 39-61.


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