Anorexia nervosa, or simply called anorexia, is an eating disorder which is usually categorized by an extremely low body weight, a very real fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of one’s own body. It is a type of self-starvation that if not treated, can lead to fatalities.
It often begins during the teenage years or early adulthood, but it can even begin as young as the preteen years.
Eating disorders affect up to 30 million men and women in the US. Both men and women can suffer from anorexia, but women are 10 times more likely to become anorexic. Nearly 1 in every 100 American women will experience anorexia at one time in their lives.
Anorexia nervosa is a psychological condition that involves an eating disorder. It causes the individual to lose more weight that what is healthy for their age and height. If you have anorexia you will purposefully restrict your food intake, generally due to a fear of being fat or becoming fat.
It is also common for those suffering from anorexia to practice excessive exercise, use laxatives, and even vomit to reduce their weight – but to lesser extent than those suffering with bulimia.
Anorexia is a very complex disease, and it isn’t always easy to diagnose in a loved one as those suffering can be quite secretive about their eating habits.
Some of the physical signs and symptoms of anorexia are:
- Severe loss of muscle mass
- Refusal to eat
- Being secretive about what food they are eating
- Exercising excessively
- Using laxatives
- Intense fear over weight gain
- Intense dissatisfaction with physical appearance, weight and body shape
- Personality changing from being outgoing to becoming more withdrawn
- Low body temperature, with cold hands and feet
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Loss of menstruation
- Brittle nails
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Low blood pressure
- Exhaustion and listlessness
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Swollen hands and feet
- Low bone density or osteoporosis
- Fine downy hair growing all over the body, including facial hair
Some of the signs of vomiting a lot may be bad breath as well as toothy decay due to the acid in the vomit.
Some of the psychological signs and symptoms are:
- Excessive concern with weight and body image
- Frequent weighing and measuring themselves
- Inspecting their body in the mirror excessively
- Obsession with food and healthy foods
- Lying and being secretive about food intake
- Not eating or refusing to eat
- Lack of emotion or depressed mood;
- Memory loss
- Reduced sex drive
- Lack of energy at times
They will often be in denial that they have a problem, and may be difficult to talk to about their eating habits.
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or in a loved one, it is important that you seek help. At The Center • A Place of HOPE we have qualified professionals who can you help you with your anorexia and help you find a way forward.
Dangerous complications of anorexia
If the symptoms of anorexia go on for too long, they can be life threatening and have long-term health complications for the individual. Up to 20% of anorexics die from major organ failure due to the constant starvation.
Some of the physical long-term complications of anorexia are:
- Cardiac problems
- Organ damage
- Brittle bones
- Tooth decay
- High cholesterol
- Liver damage
- Loss of skin color
Anorexia is a very serious and potentially fatal disease if left untreated. It is so important to seek help for this condition.
Causes of Anorexia Nervosa
No single cause has been identified for Anorexia Nervosa. There is still more research that may need to be done to help identify causes. It has been found that anorexia is due to a number of factors such as biological, environmental and psychological.
Some of the potential risk factors are:
- Being susceptible to anxiety or depression
- Having difficulty handling stress
- Being very worried or anxious about the future
- Having perfectionistic tendencies
- Having a negative self-image
- Growing up with very specific ideas about beauty, weight and health
- Having an anxiety disorder during childhood
- Growing up with physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Family or relationship problems
- Being bullied from a young age
- Living with a pressure to succeed and be successful
- A stressful life event, such as a bereavement or becoming unemployed
Between 33-50% of people suffering with anorexia are also suffering from a mood disorder such as anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.
An individual may develop anorexia nervosa as a way of having control in a difficult environment where they feel they have no control.
Genetic factors may be part of it, as between 50-80% of the risk of anorexia is thought to potentially be genetic.
Treatment should focus on the whole person, and will most likely include things like psychology, medication, family counselling and nutritional counselling.
It can be very difficult for someone with anorexia to accept that they have a problem. This is often the hardest part to take that first step of acceptance in the journey of recovery.
Treatment is often long-term as it takes time to change these thoughts and behaviors, and there may be relapses. However, with the right health professionals around you and good family or friend support, you can make a way forward and improve your health.
At The Center • A Place of HOPE there are caring and experienced health professionals that are able to help you or a loved one through this journey and help you to recover from this disease. They can help you to take steps forward and begin to change your life for the better.
Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness and you do need to reach out and seek help for yourself or for a loved one.