Anorexia nervosa is a condition where a person takes extreme measures, such as self-starvation or excessive exercising, to lose weight. The most troubling characteristic of anorexia nervosa is that even a very thin person may believe they are fat and continue to lose weight, even to the point of severe malnutrition or death.

Anorexia nervosa is most common among teenage girls, especially those who are high achievers. Anorexia may be a way of dealing with emotional problems such as a lack of self-esteem or an overwhelming desire to be in control of the body.

Signs of anorexia include obsession with weight loss, avoiding food, excessive exercise, feeling cold all the time, irregular menstrual cycles, fatigue, downy hair growth on the face and body, and depression. Behaviours such as only eating extremely low-calorie foods, playing around with food (cutting it up into small pieces, pushing it around the plate) but not actually eating it, constant weight checks, and complaints about being fat may point to a problem. People with anorexia frequently have depressed immune systems and get sick easily.

With the support of family and friends, treating anorexia is certainly possible, but there are difficulties. The major difficulty is getting the patient to realize that they have a problem. People with mild anorexia may be treated on an outpatient basis; those with more severe anorexia will need to be admitted to a hospital for close monitoring and weight gain assistance. Long-term counselling and anti-depressant medication may be necessary.

Marlene Veloso