You are at an outdoor cafe on a pleasant summer evening. A young woman is sitting at a table with two other people. You look at her face. She has very prominent cheekbones and a sharp chin. She raises her right arm to reach for her water glass. You see that the arm is a mere stick with skin on it; her arm looks like a skeleton's with a flesh-colored covering. A waiter brings plates of food to the young woman and her companions. She uses her fork to push the food around her plate. Very occasionally she brings a small forkful of food to her mouth and chews and swallows the food. When the waiter takes her plate away, most of the food is still there.
This chapter and the next will discuss situations in which we eat inappropriate amounts of food-either too little or too much. The present chapter focuses on cases in which someone, such as the young woman just described, eats too little. Such behavior is described as anorexia, which literally means “lack of appetite.” However, this definition is somewhat misleading because, as you'll learn, people with anorexia sometimes have a significant appetite; they just don't eat. This chapter is a very serious one, including discussion of life-threatening eating disorders. I hope that the information will be useful to you in understanding and dealing with these extremely difficult disorders.
When you read about the young woman at the start of this chapter, you may have immediately assumed that her anorexia was a symptom of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that will be discussed later in this chapter. However, the young woman's anorexia could actually have been due to many different factors. Anorexia is sometimes caused by infections, certain types of gastrointestinal diseases, decreases in taste and smell, Alzheimer's disease, and AIDS. 2 Some drugs, such as amphetamines, also