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What is Anorexia?

Anorexia Nervosa is probably the most well known eating disorder, because over the years it has tended to get more attention in magazines and on TV. The name Anorexia Nervosa means someone who has lost their appetite for 'nervous' - or psychological - reasons. This isn't really accurate because in fact people with anorexia are still hungry - though they may not admit it even to themselves. Instead they have managed to conquer their appetite through tremendous will power and control. At first this sense of being in control is intoxicating - but later on sufferers begin to realise that in fact somewhere they have lost control because the fears and anxieties linked with the illness have become so powerful. Someone struggling with anorexia restricts what they eat dramatically, in an attempt to lose weight. It may start as a 'normal' diet, but then becomes something much more serious. Sufferers lose a lot of weight, and often become dangerously thin - but they are unable to see just how thin they are and often still feel convinced that they are fat and need to lose more weight. They also feel terrified of putting on weight, and continue to eat very little because of a terrible fear of putting on weight. They feel convinced that if they were to eat normally like those around them, they would put on weight very quickly and end up overweight.

Some people with anorexia do simply restrict their eating and eat very little. More common however, is for that control to occasionally break down, and for them to either 'allow' themselves to eat, or to feel a sense of having lost control and eaten. If this happens then they may try to do something to purge the food - try to stop it being absorbed - because they are so scared of gaining weight and getting fat. Some people who have struggled with anorexia for a long time start to slip into more and more cycles of bingeing and purging food. For more information about this, see what is bulimia?. This is because the body, once it is starving, longs for food, and in the long term many people are unable to keep up the strict control they aim for over food.

Anorexia affects people of all ages and backgrounds, women and men, girls and boys. It has often been thought of as a 'woman's' problem but in fact around 10% of cases in treatment are men, and many more probably struggle in silence, or fail to get diagnosed. Anorexia usually starts in the early teenage years, but cases in younger children are increasingly common. Anorexia is a very serious problem, partly because of the physical effects of being too thin, but also because it brings with it a terrible sense of despair and loss of hope. People suffering often feel totally trapped, and fear that they will never be able to live a normal life. This isn't actually true - with the right help and treatment the majority will recover, though it may be a long journey to full recovery.

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