The eating disorder known as anorexia nervosa is commonly described as "self-starvation." Characteristics of the disorder include a refusal to maintain a minimally normal weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, a disturbed and unrealistic body image, and (in women) the absence of menstrual periods. (Low body weight and/or the cessation of menses distinguishes anorexia from the related disorder, bulimia.) Sufferers may starve themselves simply by restricting the amount of calories or types of food they consume; or there can be a pattern of excessive binge eating followed by purging through self-induced vomiting, inappropriate use of laxatives or enemas, or excessive exercise.
Female gender, low self-esteem, genetics, and social emphasis on thinness all increase the risk for this condition. The consequences of untreated anorexia can be severe, including electrolyte disturbances, heart rhythm abnormalities, and death. Treatment usually involves psychotherapy, medication, nutrition education, and family therapy.