"Superstar" played a few weeks ago over the radio. It was (and still is) my favorite Carpenters' song.

The Carpenters were one of my mom's much-loved musical acts, so I listened to them often as a young girl. I was stunned and saddened when Karen Carpenter died at the age of 32 (thirty-one years ago), due to complications of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Her death brought awareness to the little known eating disorder.

It took me well into my early adult years to understand that anorexia nervosa is a mental illness where a person, typically a young female — 95% of people suffering from anorexia nervosa are female — is fixated on being thin. The disorder becomes more about control. She has extreme attitudes, emotions, and behaviors about food and weight.

She sees herself as overweight when she is actually is at a healthy weight or underweight. She obsesses about eating, about food and her weight. She can never be thin enough.

She may reduce her food intake to only hundreds of calories or try to just drink water. This type of anorexia is "restricting."

She may, because she is so terribly hungry, eat a little bit, a full meal, or go all out and binge, only to stick her fingers down her throat to vomit up most of what she ate. This type of anorexia is "binge/eating/purging."

She may follow the self-induced vomiting with extreme dieting or use laxatives, enemas or diuretics. Her health may suffer.

Anorexia nervosa can have very serious, even deadly, consequences:

  • Malnourishment
  • Emaciation
  • Dry yellowish skin
  • Amenorrhea
  • Brittle nails
  • Dry hair or hair loss
  • Mild anemia
  • Low blood pressure, slowed breathing, slowed pulse
  • Lanugo (fine hair growth all over the body and face, due to inadequate protein in the diet)
  • Lethargy
  • Drop of internal body temperature (sensitivity to cold)
  • Sever constipation
  • Infertility
  • Brain damage
  • Multi-organ failure

There are warning signs to watch for, indicating a person may have anorexia nervosa:

  • Continuous dieting
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Refusal to eat or severely restricted eating
  • A persistent fear of gaining weight

February 23rd through March 1st is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 20 million woman and 10 million men have dealt with a clinically significant eating disorder at some point during their life. The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

To find out more about the "I had no idea." campaign during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and to access helpful tips, visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).