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Anorexia Nervosa: Causes and Cures

Anorexia Nervosa:
Causes and Cures



If I have anorexia, can I get better?
What is the treatment for anorexia?


No one knows for sure what causes anorexia nervosa (sometimes just called "anorexia"). Most experts agree that there is not one single cause, but many causes. Most of them have to do with the society we live in, the family we come from, and our individual personality.

For instance, the images we see in magazines, on television, and in the movies make it seem as if the only way to be beautiful and happy is to be thin. Some girls may believe that message. They think (incorrectly, of course) that losing weight will make them feel beautiful and happy.

Anorexia can also be related to family problems. Girls with anorexia may struggle with parents or other family members who have unrealistically high expectations of them, who make comments about their body, or who may even have their own weight and eating problems. Some girls may feel that starving themselves is the best way to rebel against bossy and controlling family members. They may feel that their family controls their whole life, but can't control what they eat. Girls with anorexia often feel misunderstood by their families.

Some people are born with personalities that make them more prone to getting anorexia. For instance, girls with anorexia tend to be high achievers and perfectionists. They often get good grades and are popular. On the outside, it may look like they have it all, but this doesn't stop them from feeling bad about themselves. They may also feel anxious, lonely, or depressed.

Certain life experiences can also lead to anorexia. Girls whose bodies have developed early may think that they are fat and begin to diet excessively. Other girls may have been sexually abused when they were very young and use their weight and eating habits as ways of gaining control over their lives. Girls who participate in gymnastics, ballet, and other sports that stress body size and shape may also develop anorexia.

Recently, scientists have been learning about how certain chemicals in the brain may be part of the reason for why some girls develop anorexia. They have also been studying how people can inherit certain genes from their parents that may make them more apt to get the disease. If these things turn out to be definite causes of anorexia, in the future there may be medication that could help treat the disease. back to top

If I have anorexia, can I get better?
Yes, you can get better. But to do so, you need people to help you. Your regular health care provider can be one of those people. Often, a whole team of people will help you—a health care provider, a psychotherapist, a nutritionist, and perhaps a nurse. Your family should also be involved in your treatment. It may take months or even years to recover from anorexia, but with lots of hard work, and lots of good care, you can get back to a healthy weight and live a healthy, normal life. The important thing to remember is that anorexia will not go away by itself. If it is not treated, the disease can cause death.

Your health care provider will review your medical history, your current symptoms, your family history, and your physical condition. He or she will also ask you many questions to find out if you have any other emotional or psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Then your health care provider or team of health professionals will figure out the best treatment for you. back to top

What is the treatment for anorexia?
Treatment for anorexia must consider both the physical symptoms and the emotional causes of the disease. That's why a mix of psychotherapy, medication, and care from a health care provider is usually recommended.
  • Psychotherapy. Talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker who understands anorexia is one of the best ways to recover. A psychotherapist can help you explore the thoughts and feelings that led to your anorexia and can work with you to change your behavior.
  • Talk therapy. A few talking therapies are especially helpful, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, family therapy, and behavorial therapy. Some people have found that therapies involving drama, art, and dance are also useful. Your health care provider or team may suggest one particular therapy, or a combination.
  • Medication. Medications can help treat anorexia, especially antidepressants such as Prozac. Other drugs are also prescribed, depending on the individual. If you do take medication, remember that it might not make you feel better immediately. It is also important to keep taking your medication as your health care provider prescribed, even if you feel fine.
  • Nutritional counseling. Part of recovering from anorexia is learning how to eat right. It is a good idea to meet regularly with a registered dietitian. He or she can give you information and support while you are gaining back your weight and developing healthier eating habits.
  • Physical and medical care. Because anorexia is so dangerous to the body, you will have to visit your health care provider fairly regularly. The health care provider will weigh you and check things like your weight, pulse, and blood pressure.
  • Hospital programs. If you are too sick to live at home, you may need to stay in the hospital. In an inpatient (hospital) program, you will get care and support 24 hours a day. You will stay in the hospital until you have gained back some weight and are well enough to live at home again. You will see a psychiatrist or another mental health professional every day, and your pulse, blood pressure, and other "vitals" will also be checked daily. You may participate in group therapy, and you may take medication. Most people stay in the hospital for just a few weeks.

    A special "day-hospital" program can help you if you need more care than you are getting with outpatient therapy, but do not need to be in the hospital. These programs give you the daily care you need, but allow you to live at home and even go to school.
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Last Modified Date: 3/30/2001
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