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What is anorexia? Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder consisting of a refusal to eat and an obsession with dieting, often brought on by a desire to be thin or a particular personal crisis. The dieting found in cases of anorexia is often dangerous and doesn't stop when weight loss is achieved. The American Psychiatric Association has defined five criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia. It is characterized by an intense fear of becoming obese that does not diminish once weight loss progresses; a disturbance of body image such as describing oneself as fat even when very thin or even emaciated; a refusal to maintain an average or healthy body weight according to height and age range; no known physical illness that would cause such weight loss; and/or amenorrhea or loss of menstruation.

Who can have anorexia? Anyone can be affected by anorexia. Although the highest incidence is found in young girls in early puberty and late adolescence, the incidence in young boys has been rising steadily in the past few years. This syndrome, first identified over 300 years ago, has spread around the world and is now reported particularly in places like Russia, Japan, Australia, and the United States. Today's statistics indicate that about 1 in 100 people are affected by this problem.

How does it happen? The cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown, but research shows that it can stem from a variety of social, biological, and psychological issues. Some possible causes are control issues, obsessive compulsive tendencies, a desire for attention, a response to some medical problems, a significant stressor, and social pressure to adhere to a particular body type and physical appearance.

How is it treated? Treatment for eating disorders is typically a team effort. Studies indicate that the most effective approach to treatment is based on the triad of psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and medical care by a specialized primary care physician. Depending on the individual's presentation, treatment can include outpatient services, intensive partial programs, or require an inpatient stay in a specialized facility.