A lot of people wish that they looked different or could change something about themselves, but when a preoccupation with becoming thin takes over thoughts, life and eating habits, its a sign of an eating disorder
Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, life threatening eating disorder that affects women and men of all ages. Anorexia Nervosa has three main features; the refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, an intense fear of weight gain and a distorted body image. Eating and mealtimes can be severely stressful for someone with Anorexia but yet food occupies almost every thought. Thoughts about dieting, food, exercise, calories and your body often take up the entire day which means there is a little or no time for friends, families and other activities once enjoyed. Life becomes a relentless pursuit of thinness and perfection. In the purge sub-type of anorexia, weight loss is achieved by vomiting or using laxatives and diuretics.
Anorexia Nervosa is actually not about food or weight! At least not at the core. Eating Disorders are complicated and food and weight issues are usually symptoms of something deeper including but not excluding depression, loneliness, insecurity, pressure to be perfect and feeling out of control.
A lot of people with Anorexia feel powerless in many aspects of life but in control when it comes to food. Saying no to hunger, controlling numbers on scales and calories can make a person feel strong and successful for a short period of time. People with Anorexia often strive off hunger pains or noises.
Living with anorexia means constantly hiding habits. This makes it hard at first for friends and family to spot the warning signs. When confronted, a person with Anorexia might try to explain away disordered eating and wave away concerns. But as Anorexia progresses, people close to the person wont be able to deny their instincts that something is wrong. As anorexia develops, a person become increasingly preoccupied with the number on the scale, how they look in the mirror, and what they can and can’t eat.
Anorexic food behaviour signs and symptoms
- Dieting despite being thin – Following a severely restricted diet. Eating only certain low-calorie foods. Banning “bad” foods such as carbohydrates and fats.
Obsession with calories, fat grams, and nutrition – Reading food labels, measuring and weighing portions, keeping a food diary, reading diet books.
Pretending to eat or lying about eating – Hiding, playing with, or throwing away food to avoid eating. Making excuses to get out of meals (“I had a huge lunch” or “My stomach isn’t feeling good”).
Preoccupation with food – Constantly thinking about food. Cooking for others, collecting recipes, reading food magazines, or making meal plans while eating very little.
Strange or secretive food rituals – Refusing to eat around others or in public places. Eating in rigid, ritualistic ways (e.g. cutting food “just so,” chewing food and spitting it out, using a specific plate).
Anorexic appearance and body image signs and symptoms
- Dramatic weight loss – Rapid, drastic weight loss with no medical cause.
Feeling fat, despite being underweight – may feel overweight in general or just “too fat” in certain places, such as the stomach, hips, or thighs.
Fixation on body image – Obsessed with weight, body shape, or clothing size. Frequent weigh-ins and concern over tiny fluctuations in weight.
Harshly critical of appearance – Spending a lot of time in front of the mirror checking for flaws. There’s always something to criticize. Never thin enough.
Purging signs and symptoms
Some people with Anorexia Nervosa often use purging as a way to get rid of calories. The difference to those with Bulimia is that when a person with Anorexia purges, they have not binged but consumed little calories.
- Using diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics – Abusing water pills, herbal appetite suppressants, prescription stimulants, ipecac syrup, and other drugs for weight loss.
Throwing up after eating – Frequently disappearing after meals or going to the bathroom. May run the water to disguise sounds of vomiting or reappear smelling like mouthwash or mints.
Compulsive exercising – Following a punishing exercise regimen aimed at burning calories. Exercising through injuries, illness, and bad weather. Working out extra hard after binging or eating something “bad.”
People with anorexia are often perfectionists and overachievers. They’re the “good” daughters and sons who do what they’re told, excel in everything they do, and focus on pleasing others. But while they may appear to have it all together, inside they feel helpless, inadequate, and worthless. Through their harshly critical lens, if they’re not perfect, they’re a total failure. In addition to the cultural pressure to be thin, there are other family and social pressures that can contribute to anorexia. This includes participation in an activity that demands slenderness, such as ballet, gymnastics, or modelling. It also includes having parents who are overly controlling, put a lot of emphasis on looks, diet themselves, or criticize their children’s bodies and appearance. Stressful life events—such as the onset of puberty, a breakup, or going away to school/university, rape, abuse, family dysfunction—can also trigger anorexia. Research suggests that a genetic predisposition to anorexia may run in families. If a girl has a sibling with anorexia, she is 10 to 20 times more likely than the general population to develop anorexia herself. Brain chemistry also plays a significant role. People with anorexia tend to have high levels of cortisol, the brain hormone most related to stress, and decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are associated with feelings of well-being.
The effects of Anorexia Nervosa
Tips for helping a person with anorexia
Think of yourself as an “outsider.” In other words, someone not suffering from anorexia. In this position, there isn’t a lot you can do to “solve” your loved one’s anorexia. It is ultimately the individual’s choice to decide when they are ready.
Be a role model for healthy eating, exercising, and body image. Don’t make negative comments about your own body or anyone else’s.
Take care of yourself. Seek advice from a health professional, even if your friend or family member won’t. And you can bring others—from peers to parents—into the circle of support.
Don’t act like the food police. A person with anorexia needs compassion and support, not an authority figure standing over the table with a calorie counter.
Avoid threats, scare tactics, angry outbursts, and put-downs. Bear in mind that anorexia is often a symptom of extreme emotional distress and develops out of an attempt to manage emotional pain, stress, and/or self-hate. Negative communication, threats to tell, tactics meant to scare such as “you’re going to die”, or isolating the person often makes things worse.