Anorexia, a refusal of food that can lead to extreme weight loss, hormonal disorders and even death, is primarily a disease of adolescent girls. Although considered an illness, anorexia is often a symptom of a psychological problem that is closely related to the family environment. Anorexic girls may use food refusal as a means of manipulating parents, so parents’ growing concern (due to problems) gradually turns each meal into a real battle.
Although the cause of this disease is not yet known, some claim it is a result of subconscious fear of upcoming maturity. Anorexic girl therefore uses a weight-loss diet so her body could ”keep” preadolescent look. In some cases the emotionally insecure girl, after accidental hearing objection that she is too fat, may decide to lose weight in order to gain friends.
The disease usually begins with a normal diet for weight loss, but then the girl eats less and less. He cites false reasons, arguing, for example, that her legs or arms are still too fat. The less she eats, the less food she needs. Even if she resembles a skeleton, she still thinks she is too fat and will not eat well. However, the girl sometimes ”throw herself” on a particular dish and eats too much of it – and then she throws up all of it. In order to address the family’s complaint, she may hide the food and throw it away, claiming she had eaten it. When her weight drops to about 12 kg below normal, her menstruation may be absent (see amenorrhea), and her body can become hairy. In an early stage of illness, anorexic person is often abnormally energetic, and prepares abundant meals even though she is starving, and claims to be in excellent condition.
However, her skin takes on an unhealthy pale yellow color and resembles paper, and in time the disease actually becomes worse. Constipation often develops, even if the patient takes large doses of substances (laxative), which she probably takes because she believes that the food that passes through the body ”fast” will prevent weight gain. In later stages of illness, the patient may fall into complete depression.
Anorexia is a rather common disease. Thus, for example, in the United Kingdom it is presumed to affect about 1 in 100 adolescent girls. In boys, this disease occurs in only 1 in 2000 cases, although the incidence is increasing. However, anorexia is primarily a disease of developed countries.
In adolescent girls, who are trying to reduce weight by taking large amounts of laxatives and diet pills and frequent vomiting, dangerous changes in blood chemistry due to abnormal loss of body fluids can develop. Many adolescents go through a temporary phase of excessive weight loss, though anorexia occurs only in a small number of cases.
Of these cases, about 5% die, mostly suicide caused by depression. A small number dies due to secondary infections (resulting from malnutrition) or dehydration (caused by laxatives and pills). Some girls literally starve to death.
What to do?
If your adolescent daughter unjustifiably consider herself to be overweight and exaggeratest with a weight loss diet, contact your doctor immediately. Treatment of anorexia is harder in later stages of the disease. The condition may return to normal quite easily if the patient has not lost more than 12 kg, but if she lost more the treatment usually lasts longer. The doctor will examine the girl and, perhaps, find out she’s not really sick, and will give you and your daughter an advice on how to avoid complications. If the diagnosis is anorexia, the doctor will probably send the patient immediately to the hospital.
Even in early stages, the best treatment is done in the hospital. The treatment method varies considerably from case to case, although the hospital physician will usually talk to the patient and help her decide on a ”suitable” weight, and then recommend the nutrition needed to achieve a healthy weight gain.
If possible, the girl will be in a special room, and constant supervision is required. While in hospital, the girl may go to psychotherapy where at least part of the treatment will take place in the presence of her parents. The psychotherapist will try to motivate the girl to talk about personal and family problems that her parents may not be aware of, and thus contribute to their resolving.
When the weight of the girl reaches the appropriate level and as she looks ready to accept physical and emotional maturity, she will be allowed to go home. Before that, her parents will get advice on how to behave towards her and how to recognize the onset of the disease if it comes back.
A year or two after being released from a hospital, the girl will occasionally have to come to the hospital for outpatient examinations. Namely, in about 60% of the girls who have recovered from anorexia, the disease reappears. Although many parents consider this disease to be just a transition phase in adolescence, some patients may have eating disorders for many years, and are either starving or overeating.