Do you know anyone with Anorexia Nervosa or has Anorexic tendencies?
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
1.55% of the population in Austria have Anorexia Nervosa, with France close behind at 1.42%. Around 1 out of 54 people in the United States have some sort of an eating disorder, with Anorexia Nervosa being in the lead. What makes it even more alarming is that research also suggests that this data contains many unaccounted people with Anorexia Nervosa due to misdiagnosis. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of every mental illness and Anorexia Nervosa wins the death count trophy by a leap. A major concern is people's ignorance on this deadly, yet common, disorder. The media continues to show hazardously skinny models, actors, dancers and musicians, even though the media recognizes the damage to people's subconscious and self appreciation. Society is extremely undereducated on this topic, and if more people are aware of what it is, what it feels like, how it occurs, and how to recover, perhaps the percentage of people with this illness will decline.
First off, people need to know what it is. The name Anorexia Nervosa is of Greek origin. "An-" is a prefix indicating negation, and "-orexia" (derived from -orexis) means appetite. Therefore, the literal translation of anorexia is "loss of appetite". This name, though misleading, is similar to how people should react to someone that has it. This does not mean people should shrug it off. This means people should understand and accept it is not the anorexic's fault and the anorexics cannot help but feel this way. Some people are born at higher risk to develop an eating disorder due to an under active endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is better known as the marijuana-like neurotransmitter. It is in charge of controlling the amount of pleasure from sensory experiences. People with a healthy endocannabinoid system would feel some euphoria after grabbing a bite. This is why people typically become satisfied after eating, and tend to snack a lot when feeling negative emotions. With this neurotransmitter being under active, anorexics do not feel this rush of euphoria. The individual may find food frightening or trigger anxiety, leading the individual to avoid food entirely. Due to this unfortunate and unpreventable biological factor, it becomes difficult to prevent this disorder. Some people tend to treat anorexics poorly due to the fact that they are unaware of this, and these people need to realize telling an anorexic to eat will not help. In fact, telling an anorexic to "just eat" causes frustration and makes anorexics feel as if no one understands them. It could also make anorexics feel worthless and idiotic because they struggle so much to do a simple everyday activity. Instead, people attempting to help anorexics should offer a listening ear and become someone whom anorexics can trust. Anorexia is not choice, but a mental disorder. It is not a lifestyle, and should never be viewed as one. It is a cry for help and someone with greater authority that has the ability to help must be notified of the deadly issue. Anorexics do become worried about how skinny they appear, however body image is not usually the trigger.
Problems That Arise
Being anorexic is extremely painful, as well as tiring. It drains both the mental and physical energy. The unhealthy obsession and compulsion over calorie counting is the first to take over. This eventually becomes an annoying habit which tends to push many people away. After that, the anorexic would begin to over exercise, losing time to be social. This new loneliness creates depression and more stress, resulting in a downward cycle. Not only that, but it will take time away from sleep, school and/or work. Loss of sleep will cause many issues including hallucinations. Clearly sleep deprivation also makes people lose the ability to focus, so school and/or work will deteriorate too. The bar that others have set will not be met and this will most likely cause the feeling of not being good enough (self worth reduces), and intense pressure to live up to people's expectations. All this depression, stress and anxiety, build up the drainage of mental energy.
A calorie (kcal for short) is a measurement of energy. The low amount of calories consumed per day is what leads to physical energy drainage. Though exercise in most cases are good, over exercise leads to health problems such as stress fractures, muscular atrophy, as well as a release of excessive free radicals that are linked to cellular mutation, cancer and much more. When there is an impact on the bones, micro fractures appear. Micro fractures heal stronger than before they initially appeared, but for them to heal, time, rest, and real food is needed. If these micro fractures are not given time to heal, and instead used more, the micro fractures worsen and they become stress fractures. The way to heal a stress fracture is to prevent more impact on the area. This can take from over the course of one day to six weeks, depending on how serious the fracture is. Typically, anorexics ignore the pain and continue to exercise. Calories are needed to build muscle, and without it, the muscle wastes away. This is called muscular atrophy and the constant decrease in calories cause anorexics to have this. So not only do anorexics lose fat, but they lose a large mass of muscle too. Muscle actually increases metabolism and just a reminder: the heart is made of muscle. Not eating or not eating enough causes stomach ulcers due to the amount of acid in the stomach. In result, anorexics get intense pains in the abdominal area and often clutch at the stomach, screaming or even crying. Without calories, the body will not have enough energy to operate properly and organs will begin to fail. Since the organs fail, the blood circulation in the body is not as good and the body temperature will start to decrease. Being cold, the body will grow soft, downy hair all over the body to try to keep it warm. This hair is called lanugo which can also be found on baby seals and elephants. From lack of glucose, the individual develops low blood sugar, resulting in pre syncope and eventually syncope.
When people were asked what they think the triggers of Anorexia Nervosa are, most respond claiming the media, family influence, peer influence and/or self hate, however the majority did not think about the other common causes like stress and abuse. Stress can influence anorexia in two ways: start of overeating or strive for control. It often leads to people eating more comfort foods. Unluckily, when the body is under a great amount of stress, fat cell formation is higher. Since this makes the individual accumulate fat content quickly, the individual may start to despise food, realizing what it has done to his/her body. Strive for control is formed by sudden changes like loss of a loved one or losing a job. These two are both common examples of stress induced by something that cannot be changed. The individual tries to take control of something and eating is of easy access. Unfortunately, developing anorexia would leave the individual with less control and give in to the obsession of counting calories, over exercising and maintaining a low weight. Physical abuse also causes the feeling of no control. The victim is hurt and tends to feel alone with no one to help him/her. Verbal and sexual abuse does trigger self hate which by a domino effect, triggers anorexia. Verbal abuse is particularly damaging when it comes from a parent or partner. The victim, in this situation, feels the need to be better so the abuser will be more accepting of the victim. This is why comments on weight should be avoided. Sexual abuse also tends to create self hate towards his/her own body. Sometimes females wish to have a child like figure and use food restriction as a way to achieve this dangerous goal. They believe having an immature body would reduce the chance of being targeted again.
People commonly tell anorexics to, "just eat", and try to shove food down the anorexic's throat. They talk to the person as if he/she is stupid, explaining how to eat, step by step. These are both great examples of what not to do. All this does is make the anorexic feel anxious, stupid, frustrated, and annoyed. Telling an anorexic to eat is like telling someone with a dislocated arm to do chin ups. Without the problem, the action is easy. The first thing to do is figure out what the trigger is. If the trigger is taken care of, recovery might become a lot easier. Sometimes teaching anorexics about eating disorders help too. This is called psycho education. Next, tell someone that can help find proper treatment. Keep complimenting the anorexic but be careful not to overdo it. Start getting him/her to eat a little bit, adding a few more calories per day as he/she progresses. Just being a friend for an anorexic has an impact and will make him/her feel cared for, and have a reason to follow through in recovery. Tell him/her to stand in front of a mirror everyday and to compliment him/herself. Be sure not to belittle his/her problems and never make recovery look too easy. The anorexic will feel as if the person helping does not understand what he/she is going through.
A common therapy that professionals use for anorexics who have had Anorexia Nervosa for less than three years is called The Maudsley Approach. This treatment consists of 15-20 sessions over the course of one year. In this treatment, the first step is to return the anorexic to a regular, healthy weight. This step is called Weight Restoration. In this step, the entire household is brought into therapy so that the parents and siblings can help the anorexic (patient) more efficiently. Usually a family meal is conducted. This allows the therapist to examine the family's usual interaction around eating, and assist the other family members on how to encourage the patient to eat slightly more than he/she planned to originally. A few signs that the patient is ready for the next step is when he/she has learned to accept parental demand of increasing food intake, steady weight gain, and relief and hopefulness is restored in the family. The second step is called Gaining Control. This is for the anorexic to learn how to gain control over eating habits. The therapist mainly trains the parents or guardian in this step. They are trained to make sure their child maintains to eat enough. For example, if the patient asks to go out with friends for a lunch and a trip to the mall, the parents would make the patient eat at home first, then go to the mall with friends. Step three commences when the patient can maintain at least 95% of ideal weight on his/her own and no longer starves him/herself. Step three is called Establishing Identity. This is to clear up any possible triggers for a relapse and reorganize the family's life. Doing this reduces the risk of a relapse and ensures an elated lifestyle.
Sum It Up
This is just a rough outlook on anorexia. If an individual is placed in a position where he/she must take action, further research should be performed. This is to raise awareness and diminish people's ignorance. The world might seem gloomier now, but this is the truth of what others go through. This is why bullying is intolerable. Every being on the planet is linked together and the things people say can either break down society or strengthen it. Always keep in mind that Anorexia Nervosa is not a lifestyle that anyone can control, Anorexia Nervosa causes great suffering, triggers are not as simple as they may seem, and recovery is a long process which everyone needs to take part in. Spread the word and diminish ignorance. Then possibly, anorexia rates will decline.
If you find out someone you barely know is anorexic, would you..
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Dancia Susilo