Anorexia nervosa, misnamed "anorexia" ("loss of appetite"), is a disease that has been on medical records since 1689. It appears to have multiple causes - for example, a desire for self-control or mastery over the body, feelings of being unprepared to meet the demands of adolescence and adulthood, and family conflicts. Typical victims tend to be self-critical and compliant and often come from families where one or more parent is overprotective.
A puzzling and potentially dangerous emotional disorder, anorexia nervosa is increasingly prevalent among teenage girls and women (approximately 5% of sufferers are male). The disease is characterized by an obsession with dieting to the point of emaciation, which then triggers normal endocrine changes in the body that further distort mood and behaviour. Clinical symptoms of anorexia nervosa are similar to those seen in human starvation and include preoccupation with food, constipation, insomnia, hair loss and dry skin. Psychological changes may include depression, withdrawal, anxiety, irritability and loss of sensitivity to other people.