Anorexia Nervosa is a psychological disorder characterized by an irrational fear of becoming overweight and a relentless pursuit to stay thin. Many anorexics also suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a disorder in which a person is excessively concerned about a perceived defect in their physical appearance. Anorexia is most common in adolescent girls and young women but people of all ages including men and children can suffer from the disorder.
Anorexia: The Obsession
No matter how much physical altering they do to themselves, the results are never enough. People suffering from anorexia sometimes go to extreme measures to maintain a dangerously low body weight. The more weight they lose, the more obsessed they become with weight loss, food and dieting.
There are two types of anorexia nervosa, the restricting type and the purging type. The restricting type is when weight loss is achieved by restricting food and calorie intake. This happens through excessive exercise, extreme diets and fasting. The purging type is characterized by ridding the body of calories through vomiting or using laxative and diuretics.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia
Many people with anorexia will hide their disorder and make up excuses for their eating habits or intense exercise routines.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Include:
- Obsession with calories, nutrition, and fat
- Pretending or lying about eating
- Dieting despite being thin
- Denial of being too thin
- Dramatic weight loss
- Strange food rituals
- Critical of physical appearance
- Using diet pills and laxatives
- Throwing up after eating
- Excessive exercising
Health Risks of Anorexia
Anorexia can be very dangerous and life threatening. When the body does not get enough calories, it perceives itself as starving. The body slows down in order to conserve energy and then “eats” itself to get essential nutrients.
Health Risks of Anorexia Include:
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Lack of energy
- Feeling cold all the time
- Dizziness, and fainting
- Growth of fine hair over body and face
- Stunted growth
- Heart problems
- Kidney Failure
The initial concern in eating disorder treatment is addressing any physical health that resulted from the disorder. Hospitalization may be necessary in order to prevent starvation, suicide or an extreme mental crisis. Dangerously thin anorexics may need to stay in a hospital until they have reached a healthier weight. Outpatient medical help is also available for those who are not in immediate medical danger.
Nutritionists are used to teach patients about healthy eating and balanced meals. Some nutritionists develop meal plans for their patients which include the proper amount of calories a patient needs to consume in order to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Counseling and Therapy
There are four types of therapy which have proven to be helpful with recovering anorexics.
Four Helpful Therapies:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
Cognitive therapy explores the critical thoughts underlying anorexia. This therapy focuses of increasing self-awareness and self-esteem along with challenging distorted beliefs.
Behavioral therapy promotes healthy eating behaviors through the use of self-monitoring, goal setting and rewards. It teaches the patient to recognize the triggers that would cause them to be active in their eating disorder.
Family therapy pays attention to the family dynamics that may have contributed to anorexia or may interfere with the patient’s recovery. Family therapy includes family sessions with or without the patient.
Group therapy allows people suffering from anorexia to talk and work through issues with other people suffering from the disorder. This allows people to share stories, give advice and support one another.
Although there are extreme physical and emotional effects of anorexia, anorexia is a treatable condition. Anorexia recovery involves both the mind and the body. A treatment team, including medical doctors, mental health professionals and dietitians, is important and beneficial to recovery.
Support of family members and friends during the treatment process has proven beneficial. Three important components of treating anorexia disorder include, restoring the person to a healthy weight, treating the psychological issues related to the disorder and mending behaviors or thoughts that could lead to a relapse.