Anorexia is, simply stated, starving yourself to death. It comes from an obsessive fear and a desperate desire to maintain control over that fear. The fear very often has nothing to do with food. Fear of eating or of being fat is substituted for a different fear with which the anorexic feels unable to cope. It might be fear of failure, abandonment, intimacy, or sexuality itself. By controlling something within her power—the intake of food and fluids—the anorexic allows herself the illusion that she is in control of her real fear.
Anorexics still get hungry, but their fear of fat causes them to control their hunger pangs. And when these natural feelings of hunger are squelched, the anorexic experiences the exhilaration of control. If you are anorexic, you will need to by very honest with yourself about your eating patterns. You may want to congratulate yourself on your willpower over food. You may be disdainful of those around you who are overweight, even deluding yourself into thinking that your abstinence is a healthy alternative to becoming what you think you fear—being fat, ugly, and unlovable. You may derive an enormous sense of self-satisfaction from knowing that you are never going to look as large as they. The terrible irony is that, deep down, you suspect you already do, for a strong component to anorexia is an inability to see yourself clearly.
With changing social norms about what is and is not an acceptable body weight, it can be confusing to know what a healthy person should weigh. Add into that equation different body types and the hormonal fluctuations of adolescence, and often the answer to whether a person has lost too much weight becomes apparent only after the undeniable evidence of hollow cheeks and jutting bones appears. Following are five primary symptoms of anorexia to help shed light on this confusion.
- Refusal to maintain minimally normal body weight for corresponding height, body type, age, and activity level
- Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
- Feeling “fat” or overweight despite dramatic weight loss
- Loss of menstrual periods in post pubescent women and girls
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
The desire to maintain a healthy body weight is fine, but the anorexic’s obsession with food and gaining weight is leading her toward slow starvation and death, not toward a healthy body. If you are anorexic, it will be easy for you to deceive yourself. The only protection against this deception is to begin a process of being honest with yourself, accepting who you are, and being open to the wise counsel and help offered by others.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, it’s important to seek professional help. Our world-class team of eating disorder professionals at The Center • A Place of HOPE has helped many people recover from eating disorders through our focus on whole person care. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to get more information or to speak confidentially with an eating disorder recovery specialist today.