Every parent of an adolescent girl has heard of anorexia nervosa, but it’s not as widely understood as it could be.  Even the fact that most people assume it only affects adolescent girls is a commonly held misunderstanding – anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition that affects people of all ages, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and races.

The first step in counteracting any kind of mental health disease is raising awareness so that the individual with the disorder and their parents can begin to take steps for treating and recovering from it. This is more important than you’d think at first glance – among mental health diseases, including other types of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa leads to higher death rates (by malnutrition and also by suicide) than any other.

Because of the need for early diagnosis and treatment, families searching for anorexia nervosa treatment centers near them should know what they’re looking for – and how to help their children lead a healthier, happier life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Anorexia Nervosa

What is anorexia nervosa?

Any type of eating disorder is one of a series of very serious mental health conditions that can have dangerous physical complications. As an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa surrounds an individual’s relationship with food and eating. ​People with anorexia nervosa stringently restrict their food and caloric intake – avoiding meals, engaging in diets despite being underweight, and in severe cases are malnourished and even emaciated. In most cases, these behaviors stem from a greatly distorted body image – imagining that they are fat or overweight despite all evidence.

What kind of people get anorexia nervosa?

Despite prevailing misconceptions, people of all genders and nearly any age can develop an eating disorder. There have been cases of AN observed in kids as young as age 6, although the normal onset is age 14 – 21. While women and girls are more commonly diagnosed than males, anorexia nervosa does appear in both cisgender and trans men and women.

The most recent clinical studies show that up to 7 percent of women in the US have an eating disorder at some point during their lives.  Additionally, anorexia nervosa is the 3rd most common mental health disorder among teen girls.  The takeaway should be that while adolescent girls are at the highest risk for developing anorexia nervosa, it can strike anyone, at any age.

Is there a cure?

Being a mental health disorder, most clinicians and therapists are wary of using the word “cured” about AN.  It’s not like the flu, where all symptoms disappear after a course of treatment. But with proper treatment, many people with eating disorders can enjoy a successful long-term recovery. When the individual enters a treatment center or undergoes intensive therapy, recovery rates are high.

In severe cases, residential treatment programs might be necessary, but day treatment programs may be a better option for adolescents who desire to stay in school during their treatment. After treatment, the chances of relapse being triggered reduce greatly when they have access to aftercare and a strong support system at home.

What are the main red flags?

Parents who suspect that their adolescent is beginning to develop anorexia nervosa should keep their eyes out for several telltale signs. The most prevalent will be a disordered body image (AKA body dysmorphia, in this case perceiving that they are overweight or otherwise flawed) and an avoidance of meals.  People with anorexia nervosa will normally avoid eating, frequently skipping meals.  When they do eat, it tends to be in small amounts and compounded by frequent dieting or avoiding certain kinds of food. Anorexia nervosa symptoms also often include compulsive exercising or the abuse of laxatives or diuretics.

If your loved one is beginning to show these signs or symptoms, please don’t wait.  Reach out to your therapist or an eating disorder specialist as soon as possible.  Anorexia nervosa can be treated – and a full life in recovery can be had.

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