One question that often springs to mind, when trying to understand the causes of anorexia nervosa is why anybody would want to voluntarily starve themselves to the point of no return. While some might fast for political or spiritual reasons, there are those who go beyond the limits of safety just for looks alone. Anorexics are not trying to make a statement or reach nirvana. So why would someone choose self-imposed starvation as opposed to living a healthy life.
If there are physiological reasons for anorexia nervosa, none have yet been found. To date, no series of laboratory tests have discovered faulty DNA, the “heredity factor” is absent, and anorexics show no abnormalities of the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Ruling out physical causes leaves us to turn to emotional and psychological causes of anorexia. Countless studies indicate these possible psychological causes of anorexia nervosa: Patients exhibit obsessive-compulsive features in many life areas e.g. maintaining rigid schedules, making lists, and “checking” behavior common to those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
An anorexic will rarely, if ever, bring his or her self in for treatment or be open about their situation and problem. Most of the time, anorexics come to the attention of a therapist through their physician or a concerned family member.
Anorexic patients do not see their behavior as problematic; they see themselves through distorted eyes that tell them that they need to lose even more weight through starvation and excessive exercise. Patients often have co-morbid conditions such as major depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive features.
Anorexics never eat in public, have feelings of personal inadequacy, have a sense of perfectionism, seldom have a social life, and display rigidity in thinking patterns. Patients have a very restricted emotional affect; real emotional displays (either positive or negative), are superficial or completely absent. Anorexics have an intense need to control what goes into their bodies. If they believe they lack control in other aspect of their lives, only they have the power to eat or not to eat. A fairly recent finding in the etiology of Anorexia Nervosa suggests that many sufferers were physically abused as children. As a result of this intrusion to their bodies, they subconsciously seek to make themselves unattractive to avoid future exploitation. They share this characteristic with those suffering from Bulimia Nervosa where sufferers become obese to make themselves unattractive.
Anorexia, it appears, is the result of many psychological factors combined to push the patient to starve themselves and exercise obsessively. One thing is certain though: If left untreated, anorexia nervosa can lead to death.