Anorexia Nervosa: Understanding the Signs and Getting Help

It is only human to wish to be different or change certain things about yourself. But when the preoccupation with being thin takes a grip over your life, thought, and eating habits, it is an indication of an eating disorder. When you suffer from anorexia, the need to lose weight becomes topmost on your mind.

Anorexia nervosa – simply known as anorexia – is a serious eating disorder which affects men and woman of all ages. It can wreak serious havoc on your health and it’s life-threatening.

Anorexia nervosa is a complex eating disorder with three essential attributes:

  • Those who have anorexia are obsessed with their weight and being thin.
  • They have an extreme anxiety about gaining weight
  • They also have a malformed body image

Eating and mealtimes can become be quite nerve-racking, due to the fear of becoming fat or disgusted with how your body looks. At the same time , an obsession with what you can and can’t eat is almost all you can think about.

Thought about food, dieting, as well as your body may take up most of your day, leaving you with little or no time for family, friends, and other activities you used to love. Life becomes a real pursuit for thinness and going to the extreme to lose weight.

But no matter how skinny you tend to be, it is never enough.

While people who have anorexia most times deny they have a problem, the fact remains that anorexia is a potentially deadly and serious eating disorder. The good news is that, recovery is impossible. With support and appropriate treatment, the self-destructive pattern of anorexia can be broken and one can regain self confidence and health.

What Causes Anorexia?

The precise cause of anorexia nervosa is not known. As with many disorders, it is likely a mix of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

Biological: Even though it is unclear which genes are involved, there could possibly be genetic changes that make some individuals more vulnerable to developing anorexia. Many people might possess a genetic tendency toward sensitivity, perfectionism and perseverance — all characteristics related to anorexia.

Psychological: Some emotional features may contribute to anorexia. Young women might have obsessive-compulsive personality characteristics making it much easier to stick to diets that are strict and forgo food despite being hungry. They might have an extreme drive for perfectionism, which induces them to believe they are never thin enough. Plus they may have elevated level of anxiety and tend to engage in a restrictive kind of eating to reduce it.

Environmental: Thinness is emphasised by modern Western culture. Value and success are frequently equated with being skinny. Peer pressure can help fuel the desire to be thin, especially among young girls.

The number of people with eating disorder has increased tremendously over the years and it has been blamed on the super-thin models. And with the media promoting thin as being the next big thing and fat as unattractive, one would naturally expect large numbers of young ladies to gravitate towards that direction.

Anorexia can start with a normal diet which is then taken to the extreme, with victims eating so very little and finding their whole life revolving around food. There is also the potential of having anorexia if your family member has once being affected by a eating disorder.

Anorexia Symptoms

It may be very hard to differentiate early anorexia symptoms from regular eating or dieting behaviour. Anorexia symptoms may be linked to other health conditions and can be seen as a negative side effect of drug prescriptions.

Nevertheless, eating disorder treatment professionals can recognise apparent symptoms of anorexia by identifying physical signs from any other health condition including:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Thin look
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Exhaustion
  • The issue of dizziness or fainting
  • Seizure
  • Brittleness of nails
  • Hair breakage
  • Lack of menstruation
  • The issue of constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Unusual heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration problems
  • Osteoporosis

The key differences entail weight; an anorexic is technically categorised as underweight. Another important factor in anorexia is the loss of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Usually, the anorexic will not take part in routine binging and purging sessions.

Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia

Characteristically, people that have bulimia nervosa feel out of control and shame as regards their behaviours, as the anorexic controls their food cravings, which also naively control the sufferer. Because of this, the bulimic is more inclined to confess to having a problem, as they don’t believe they may be in control of their behaviour. The anorexic is not likely to disclose he/she has a problem and more inclined to believe they’re in firm control of their eating habit.

Both bulimics and anorexics have an overpowering awareness of self that their weight and their perceptions determine. They base all their achievements and successes on this reason and become frequently depressed when results seem not to be going their way, as they strive to achieve that “perfect body.”

Anorexia Diagnosis

For anorexia diagnosis, no test(s) is specifically available at this moment, though your physician might want to do a blood test to check for other potential causes of weight loss or anaemia. You need to prepare yourself for the likelihood of strange questions to be asked by your physician.

Most times your relatives or friends come to the realisation that you’re losing weight by the day and may want to inquire what the problem is. Denial is usually the first form of defence taken by the sufferer and will believe he or she is still overweight .If you’re quite worried that someone you know is suffering from anorexia, do all you can to help them get help, but you’ll have to do it in a very gentle way when suggesting it.

Anorexia Treatment

Treating anorexia may be quite a difficult task as the individual suffering from it doesn’t think he or she needs help in any way. According to statistics, over 25% of sufferers become so feeble that they might have to be force fed and need hospitalisation. The primary goal at this juncture will be to restore the individual to a healthier weight, discovering the root cause for anorexia and by helping the sufferer to return to regular eating patterns. Yet, for treatment to be really considered successful, the sufferer must first and foremost be willing by every stretch of the imagination to change and accept the help coming from friends and family.

Counselling is usually proposed for one year for people suffering from anorexia to treat mental health problem. And in cases where depression could be severe, antidepressants may become necessary.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Anorexia nervosa is a serious condition that requires prompt treatment. The earlier an individual with anorexia receives help, the better their chances of making a full recovery. Family members and friends play a crucial role in recognizing the warning signs and encouraging their loved one to seek professional help. Don’t ignore your concerns – trust your instincts if something seems wrong. Early intervention can prevent the disorder from becoming more severe and entrenched.

What Happens If Anorexia Is Not Treated?

Death may be staring an individual suffering from anorexia in the face if such a person decides not to get help. This is a terrible disease and affect so many. In 2021, we were saddened to lose Nikki Grahame who lost her battle with anorexia at the age of just 38.

The following may also result due to lack of food:

– · An irregular heartbeat.
– · Muscles wasting away.
– · Kidney failure.
– · Osteoporosis, as a result of insufficient calcium.

There’s a heightened danger of an individual trying to commit suicide, as those who have problems with anorexia can often be depressed.

You Are Not Alone

If you are struggling with anorexia, remember that support is available. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Eating disorder support groups provide a safe space to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. Hearing their stories and sharing your own can help you feel less isolated and more hopeful about recovery. Many people with anorexia also find individual therapy beneficial for exploring the underlying issues driving their disorder. With the right treatment and support network, full recovery is possible. You have the strength within you to overcome this challenge – believe in yourself and never give up hope.

Where to Find Help?

If you suffer from anorexia nervosa, it is important to remember that you are not alone. There is help available when you truly want to make a change. Treatment will make you feel well again and you’ll soon value yourself better like you once did.

In the UK, there are various groups that can help with Anorexia support including Beat, which is UK’s leading charity supporting people affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food, weight and shape. Anorexia & Bulimia Care also helps to provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders.

Photo “Eating” by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Health

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of Home Health Tests and Earplugs

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