Anorexia: What it really is

Anorexia nervosa is potentially the most well-known eating disorder, however, there are many misconceptions about this disorder. With 1 in 100 individuals suffering from anorexia in the UK, you most likely know (or know of) someone who has battled this disease. This disease is a lot more than a restricted diet – the sufferer will become consumed with trying to consume nothing at all. This eating disorder has an alarmingly high fatality rate and is the most dangerous of all psychiatric conditions; this may not be surprisingly as the sufferers are starving themselves to death. 1 in 5 people who are battling anorexia will commit suicide and 20% of those that do not receive treatment die within 20 years. These unsettling figures can be remedied with early intervention as this has been proven to increase the likelihood of recovery. 

Anorexia – The Signs

  • Underweight – Whilst you can have an eating disorder and be any shape or size, to fit the diagnostic criteria of anorexia you must be significantly below a healthy weight for you height.
  • Skipping meals – They may often say they have eaten already or aren’t hungry
  • Calorie restricting – Working out the amount of calories in food before it’s eaten, solely eating low-cal foods, drinking “soup” from a flask which may be hot water
  • Documenting their calorie intake – This demonstrates an obsession with food
  • Excessive exercise
  • Laxative or diuretic use (Medication to increase urine and fecal excretion which decreases total body weight)
  • Frequent weighing
  • Absence of menstruation – the body doesn’t have enough energy to undergo normal processes

Becoming familiar with the signs allows you to pick up if anyone you know may be suffering and letting them know that they should seek help, may allow them to begin recovery sooner rather than later. It is important to note that the eating disorder is controlling the sufferer’s behaviour; they may become sneaky or lie about their food intake but much like an addict, everything they are doing is to maintain their weight loss. It is their disease that is controlling how they act.

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An anorexia sufferer may see protruding bones but still believe that they are fat.

Pro-Ana

Pro-Ana is an online community that encourages anorexia and whilst these websites/hashtags get banned, new ones pop up immediately. These sick sites give tips on how to lose weight, how to hide your eating disorder and how to trick your doctor into thinking you are cured. They also post a lot of pictures of skeletal girls which are deemed “thinspiration” – inspiration to continue starving yourself. As anorexia can be a very competitive disease, a lot of sufferers post pictures of their bodies at their lowest weight for their pro-ana friends to marvel at. The inspiration and “tips” pro-ana  gives to those with eating disorders is horrific and is extremely dangerous.

Who suffers from anorexia?

Anorexia is associated with middle-class white teenage girls, but this eating disorder does not distinguish between race or gender, therefore whilst this may be the most common demographic, anyone can be affected. The cause of anorexia has yet to be identified, however, there are several things that can predispose you to this disease:

  • Those with low self-esteem
  • Those who have suffered a traumatic event
  • Perfectionists
  • Those who have their body scrutinised, for example, a model or dancer
  • Those who have been bullied for their weight
  • A family history of eating disorders or psychiatric conditions

Although anorexia nervosa may be a disease focused on physical appearance, it is often about being in control – especially in younger patients. High achievers are likely to battle anorexia; a strong sense of motivation coupled with crippling pressure to succeed can leave one feeling like their life is spiralling. Consequently, when you can’t control your life, restriciting food is there is a way to exert authority and feel like you are in charge. Understandably, successful people are often very well self-disciplined and determined to achieve their goals and these skills are easily, yet unhealthily, transferable to an eating disorder. Futhermore, eating disorders most often develop around 17 years old which is interestingly a time of high stress for most teenagers, as they sit their exams. This unhealthy coping mechanism may appear around this age as for, usually, the first time in a child’s life, they are dealing with intense stress.

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Related: Bulimia: What it is and What to do

Consequences of Anorexia

At first, skipping meals and surviving on little food may seem like a choice but it can hook people very easily so they cannot stop. This disease has the ability to kill but for those who recover it can have some lasting impact on their health:

  • Infertility
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart problems – emaciation weakens the heart
  • Seizures and cognitive dysfunction like loss of memory or concentration
  • Anaemia

Treatment of Anorexia:

Eating disorder units, such as the Priory, are very effective at treating anorexia, however, they can be very expensive which can stop some people from seeking help. These units are inpatient facilities and provide a comprehensive treatment of this disorder. Normally, these units will provide therapies to treat the psychiatric condition in addition to restoring the weight of the patient (this is a lot more difficult than one may believe).

Outpatient programs are much cheaper and the approach taken will depend on the individual. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often used; this rewires the brain to get rid of negative automatic thoughts and behaviours and teach the patient a more positive way of thinking.

Treating additional illnesses is vital to ensure a full recovery from anorexia. Having a mental illness predisposes you to suffering from another therefore depression and/or anxiety treatment is often also undertaken if necessary.

In conclusion, anorexia nervosa is an extremely dangerous disease and those suffering should seek help immediately. Anorexia recovery is very possible and the first step is acknowledging that you are suffering and visiting your doctor. There are a huge variety of charities online to help provide support and I always recommend contacting them if you are struggling. I’m currently reading this self-care book and I love it; swap the pro-ana sites for a book like this – you won’t regret it. I hope this has provided some insight into this dehabilitating disease. Jutting bones and wafer thin wrists may be the goal but this is a twisted idea of beauty; sickly shouldn’t be an aspiration. In the picture below you can see how much better being a healthy weight can look:

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Strong not skinny

IF YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO SUSTAIN AN EATING DISORDER THEN YOU HAVE THE STRENGTH TO RECOVER FROM IT

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