Blog: Anorexia nervosa
by CynthiaMadison

Anorexia nervosa – a problem of the body and mind

In the UK alone, between 1.2 and 3.4 million people suffer from an eating disorder.

Date:   10/15/2019 1:05:30 PM   ( 25 mon ) ... viewed 119 times


In the UK alone, between 1.2 and 3.4 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Anorexia has made many victims throughout time, mostly because many people think it is only a disease that affects the body. Truth be told, anorexia should be perceived as a mental illness, because people who suffer from it actually have a wrong perception of their body. It can affect people of any age, but is mostly seen in female teenagers and young adults. In fact, anorexia nervosa is the psychiatric disorder with the highest rate of mortality amongst adolescents.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disease characterized by excessive weight loss due to self-starvation. While the term anorexia actually means loss of appetite, people who suffer from anorexia don’t necessarily experience loss of appetite, but actually refuse to eat despite being hungry.

The problem begins with the patient’s belief that they are overweight, when in fact they are not. Some people start reducing the amount of food they eat, while others also combine this with excessive exercising and, despite losing weight, they still continue to do so until they become abnormally thin. Diagnosis occurs when the person weights al least 15% less than their normal weight should be.

Because it is a psychiatric disease, people who suffer from anorexia should first seek professional counseling, before recurring to medication.

There have been identified two major types of anorexia nervosa, each having particular traits:

Binging/purging anorexia: fearing they might gain weight, the person suffering from this form of anorexia will purge after eating, to alleviate the sense of guilt. Typically, they will purge by either inducing vomiting or overusing laxatives.

Restrictive anorexia: usually, those who suffer from restrictive anorexia are perceived as highly-disciplined individuals, who will restrict the amount of food they eat. This results in them consuming way too few calories and leads to self-starvation.

Major Causes

Unfortunately, there is no way to know what exactly causes anorexia, as patients have given different reasons for recurring to self-starvation. It is believed to be caused by a combination of emotions, personality traits, thinking patterns or environmental factors. Most patients who suffer from anorexia have reported having very low self-esteem, often combined with anxiety and loneliness. Some of them have been mocked about their weight or appearance in the past, causing them to believe they need to lose weight.

Oftentimes, individuals diagnosed with anorexia have stated they used food as a way to gain control over their body, when other areas of their life were too stressful. Distorted beauty standards, especially in girls and young women are also a cause for them to develop anorexia.

Some studies have also reported that anorexia nervosa can run in the family, making those whose parents or members of the family suffered from anorexia to be more susceptible to it. This does not necessarily mean that it is hereditary, but rather that the individual sees this pattern in the family and perceives it as normal behavior.

In other situations, patients have reported developing anorexia as a way to cope with childhood trauma, most of them having a history of being bullied either at school or in their circle of friends. Sometimes, this can come from family members as well, if the person was slightly overweight during childhood and their parents repeatedly tried to unnaturally control the child’s eating habits.


Signs and Symptoms

People who suffer from anorexia often show both physical and emotional signs, as the disease affects both the mind and the body. Unfortunately, symptoms can often be hard to see, either because the person manages to hide them, or because the perception of thinness can often be subjective. Not all people who are thin are necessarily suffering from anorexia, which is why other people may feel uncomfortable bringing up the problem, even if they suspect something.

Generally, symptoms of anorexia are divided into two categories:

Physical symptoms:

·         extreme weight loss in a short period of time

·         not gaining weight, despite appearing to eat normally

·         overall extremely thin appearance

·         insomnia or other sleep issues

·         fatigue or dizziness

·         thin hair, that breaks easily or falls

·         irregular heart rhythms and low blood pressure

·         absence of menstruation

Behavioral and emotional symptoms:

·         Severe dieting and exercising

·         Self-induced vomiting or laxatives abuse

·         Strange behavior related to food, such as cooking elaborate meals for others, but never eating

·         Making excuses as to not eat, such as constantly saying that they are not hungry, or that they have eaten before

·         Recurring to only a few types of food they consider “safe”

·         Obsessively weighing themselves or measuring their body

·         Complaining about being fat, despite their thin appearance

·         Low to inexistent sex drive

·         Covering their body with layers of clothing despite the weather

·         Constantly being in a bad or flat mood


If a person has been diagnosed with anorexia, treatment must begin immediately, to decrease the chances of the patient developing complications. Treatment often involves therapy, nutritional counselling and even medication, although medication is not necessarily used to treat anorexia per se, but rather other issues caused by it. Sometimes, antidepressants are prescribed, but no medication has been approved or labeled as a cure for anorexia.

Therapy is paramount for treating anorexia, as it a psychiatric issue. The therapist will speak to the patient in an attempt to see what the roots of the problem are and help them develop healthier methods to cope with them. The sessions may include speaking about past trauma, helping the person understand where their issues come from and working together to find healthy ways to express and cope with emotions.

If a person suffering from anorexia would suddenly start eating normal, their body would not respond in a natural way, as it is no longer used to intake normal amounts of food. Nutritional counseling will help the patient gain weight in a healthy and controlled way, educate them in regards to normal eating behavior and developing a diversified meal plan.

Medication is used to treat other issues that may have developed due to anorexia, such as heart problems, osteoporosis, anemia, gastrointestinal problems or electrolyte issues. For women, anorexia can often lead to the absence of period and it can take months, or even years for it to come back, even after the person has reached a normal weight.



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