Anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder that receives a lot of attention in the media but it is actually the less common than both bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa was once characterized as an eating disorder that affects Caucasian, middle class underweight young females however studies now reveal that this life-threatening eating disorder affects individuals regardless of gender, age, body type, ethnicity or social status. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of any mental health disorder and many deaths occur from suicide. Despite the guarded prognosis associated with anorexia nervosa, there remains a number of common misconceptions around this complex condition that hinder people from getting the treatment they need:
Common misconception #1: Anorexia nervosa only affects underweight individuals
Many people believe they can tell if an individual has an eating disorder just by their appearance however anorexia nervosa affects individuals of all shapes and sizes. Although this eating disorder is characterized by the inability to maintain a minimally normal weight and a devastating fear of weight gain; there is no specific weight criteria for anorexia nervosa and although the majority of individuals with this eating disorder are underweight, anorexia nervosa affects individuals who are of normal weight and who are overweight as well.
Common misconception #2: Anorexia nervosa is not associated with binge eating
Anorexia nervosa has two subtypes: the restricting subtype and the binging and purging subtype. The restricting subtype is characterized by restricting food in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain and the binging and purging subtype is characterized by binging episodes followed by self-induced vomiting, diuretic and laxative abuse, and excessive exercise.
Common misconception #3: Anorexia nervosa only affects young women
Anorexia nervosa does affect more women than men however this disorder affects all individuals regardless of gender, age, body shape, ethnicity or social class. Experts and researchers believe that anorexia nervosa is probably under diagnosed in black individuals and males because of a low index of suspicion. Eighty-five percent of individuals have onset of the disorder between the ages of 13 and 18 years, anorexia nervosa also affects individuals younger than 11 years of age and individuals in their fifties and sixties.
Common misconception #4: Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-induced vomiting
Although self-induced vomiting is one type of purging behavior, individuals with anorexia nervosa do not have to engage in vomiting in order to be diagnosed with this eating disorder. Other types of purging behaviors include excessive exercise, laxative abuse and diuretic abuse. Additionally, individuals can have the restricting subtype and no engage in purging behaviors.
Common misconception #5: Anorexia nervosa results in missed menstrual cycles
Not every woman who is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will have abnormal menstrual cycles. Missed periods depend on the severity of the eating disorder since it results when the hypothalamus-pituitary axis becomes unregulated secondary to low levels of estrogen which results in severe cases of anorexia nervosa. Abnormal menstrual cycles are not a diagnostic factor associated with this eating disorder but rather are a side effect that occurs in some women.