People who intentionally starve themselves suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. The disorder, which usually begins in young people around the time or puberty, involves extreme weight loss -- at least 15 percent below the individual's normal body weight. Those experiencing anorexia nervosa also have an intense fear of becoming fat, even though they are underweight. Many people with the disorder look emaciated but are convinced that they are overweight. Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation, yet deny the condition. The illness also causes the menstrual cycle to stop, a condition called amenorrhea. Men with anorexia often become impotent.
For reasons not yet understood, individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa become terrified of gaining any weight. Food and weight become obsessions. For some, the compulsiveness shows up in strange eating rituals or the refusal to eat in front of others. It is not uncommon for people with anorexia to collect recipes and prepare lavish gourmet feast for family and friends, but not partake in the meals themselves. They may adhere to strict exercise routines to keep off weight.
Adapted from National Women's Health Information Center, 3/00
Last reviewed March 2000 by
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