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Anorexia: What it is and how to reach recovery

Updated on January 22, 2016

Anorexia nervosa, what is this?

Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness resulting in people, typically adolescents, though adults can suffer from this too, that causes someone to obsess over their body image and calorie intake. This is usually a byproduct of depression, though not always. People with this disease typically have a distorted body image, meaning even though their body becomes sickly and malnourished they still see themselves as fat or obese. Often times people with disease need to be hospitalized due to their illness, and some people even die.

What causes anorexia?

People become anorexic typically due to some kind of bullying, ptsd, or depression. Also young people who are around someone older with an eating disorder may observe their eating rituals or exercise routines and likely develop anorexia themselves. These people often tend to focus on perfection in areas other than their bodies. They typically are perfectionists and overachievers. Many of them also have high anxiety over failure to be perfect which is partially why they focus so hard on their weight. According to a study on webmd typically there is one women out of 100 with anorexia. ( out of 10 anorexics are also women according to the same study.

When and who is at risk?

This disease usually develops around puberty, and young people with a difficult home, or school life are at the biggest risk. This tends to be because their thought patterns are “maybe my life would be better if I were thinner.” Some psychologists believe that anorexia can be some people’s attempt to cope with childhood abuse or tragedy, and sexual abuse seems to be linked with bulimia it doesn’t have many ties with the development of anorexia.

Anorexics and food

Anorexics, though they don’t eat tend to have an obsession with food. Owning alot of cookbooks and cooking large extravagant meals for friends and family though refusing to eat themselves. They also typically tend to have specific eating rituals that become habit, such as organizing food on their plate in a certain order or refusing to eat in front of people. Another thing is only eating off a specific plate (as darker colors tend to restrict appetite.)Some anorexics will chew their food then spit it out. So they can get the taste but not have the calorie intake. This really does become an obsession as people tend to only think about their body weight. They obsessively weigh themselves and often look in the mirror.

Diseases associated with anorexia

Some people combine anorexia nervosa with bulimia nervosa. Bulimia is binge eating then purging. One common things people with this eating disorder do is fast for several days then binge then purge. To people with anorexia nervosa something that would typically be a small meal top the average person they may see it as binging and purge even the smallest amounts of food. A sign to watch for if you suspect that someone may be doing this is how soon they go to the bathroom after eating. Also if they play loud music or run the faucet while in the bathroom after a meal is also a good sign.

Warning signs

Some warning signs you can watch for if you fear someone you care about may be anorexic is the strange eating rituals like what was mentioned above. Another is dramatic weight loss, with no medical cause. Using of diet pills, laxatives, or excessive exercise routines. If someone is deeply concerned with their weight and constantly talking and obsessing over body image. Denial in being too thin. Having an ideal goal weight that either keeps changing, or is set impossibly low.

Risk factors

Risk factors that can contribute to anorexia is having an emotionally rough childhood, traumatic experiences, bullying, and some mental disorders (ptsd, depression, anxiety). Nobody knows the exact cause of this disease as it is highly based on social standing, our societies attraction to being thin, and emotional wellbeing. Aside from mental factors that can contribute to this disease family and social could also play a role. People who are in sports where you need to be thin (ballet, dance, gymnastics) can play a very large role. Another factor can be children who live in a very strict or controlling household and can turn to anorexia for a way to feel in control of at least one aspect in their life. Biological factors are if someone in your family has it you are 10-20 percent more likely to develop it. People with disease tend to have a higher level of cortisone in their brain which is the chemical related to stress. They also have a lower level of serotonin which is the chemical related to wellbeing and happiness. Though lower levels of serotonin is what causes depression so this is just another thing tying anorexia and depression together.

Risks of anorexia

Eating disorders are such a devastating disease as they can and often cause death. This disease can lead to organ failure, heart failure, and osteoporosis. People who are anorexic also have a higher risk of committing suicide as it lowers serotonin levels and can increase cortisone. This disease can also be hard to notice as people may wear baggy clothes, or pretend to eat in front of people as to not have their disease noticed.

Anorexia can lead to many serious health problems, physical and mental. I can cause serious changes to brain chemistry, and can also cause memory loss. Fainting is a common side effect associated with anorexia. Peoples hair tends to get brittle, dull, and possibly fallout over time as your body cannot produce the necessary hormones needed. Low blood pressure, heart palpitations, and heart failure are another common effect as your body becomes weaker over time. You also tend to grow body hair in odd places such as your stomach, arms, or face. Anemia is also a common physical disorder associated with anorexia. Your skin can become discolored and get a grayish or yellowish tint. Your nails get brittle and break easily, they can even fall off over time. Weak muscles and swollen joints, your body starts to feed off your muscles over time as it has no food to feed off making you become weak. Due to the blood disorders it can cause you can bruise easily and you skin is easier to puncture.

Anorexia and psychosis

Some people see anorexia as a part of them or even a completely separate personality or ‘friend’. Anorexia nervosa is often called ana by these people and they push away other friends and loved ones if they try to get them to recover feeling like ana is the only one there for them. Many anorexics have even talked about ana as a friend to other people, almost like it’s a form of schizophrenia. Some people even once they realize that their eating disorder is a problem are scared to change, and even though they try to recover it’s hard.

What is recovery?

For recovery people need to know that it is possible and people will help you. The first step like any other addiction is admitting you have a problem. Open up and talk to someone about your disorder. Tell them what’s going and why you obsess over being thin. Avoid places, people, and activities that trigger your obsession with being thin. Seek professional help. There are many treatment centers specifically for anorexia and a therapist or psychologist can also be a huge help. Treating this disease after getting over all of the mental aspects involves getting back to a healthy weight, eating a healthy amount of calories a day, and not exercising so obsessively. You also need to change your thinking habits about your weight and food.

Stages of anorexia

There are several different stages to recovery from anorexia. The first stage, the pre contemplation stage, is when someone denies that they have a problem. the second stage, the contemplation stage is once someone starts to realize that they have a problem though they still may not want to recover, and deny that they need help. Step three is the preparation stage, this is when someone finally starts to realize that they need help and start to prepare to get it. in this stage people may learn and practice coping skills and even attempt to start raising calorie intake. The action stage is when the person finally starts to take some serious action against their eating disorder. They start to seek recovery, and start eating healthily. They also start to understand that you don’t need to be as thin as what they were and start to see how their body really looks. The last stage the maintenance stage is where someone actively has taken action for 6 months or more. During this period it is important that friends and family are supportive and make sure they watch the person eat and recover.

Stages of people helping someone recover

For people around someone with an eating disorder may also go through these stages. The precontemplation stage they need to not be in denial that the person has an eating disorder, be aware of signs and symptoms and openly discussing the topic with your friend or family member. Stage two the contemplation stage you need to be a good listener and educate yourself about the disorder and urge them to seek professional help for their problem. Preparation process includes learning where you fit into this person’s recovery explore your own thoughts about the problem, and ask your friend or family what they need from you to aid in their recovery. The action stage you need to follow your treatment team's recommendations, remove triggers from their daily life, and reinforce positive changes not focusing on food or weight, such as restoring social relationships. The last stage, the maintenance stage you need to make sure you recognize them for their progress, continue to encourage more and more positive changes. Also in this stage it is important you watch for recovery slips or returns to old habits. A possible sixth stage for the recovery team is the termination stage or relapse prevention stage. In this stage you must think do I have a plan if relapse does happen, and can i mentally handle a relapse of the person.


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