Body shaming is an ongoing issue in our society. The media and Western society at large have been known to glorify and attribute being thin to being attractive without concerns of physical health and mental wellbeing.

In more modern times, that’s slowly changing as there is a growing awareness towards disorders that result from behaviors that seek to attain thinness in an unbalanced way. There’s nothing wrong with dieting, staying fit and looking great. However,  we put ourselves in real danger when we become obsessed with our appearance and start taking drastic measures to obtain or maintain a sense of control over our physical bodies.

Through the years, there have been many social and media references to anorexia nervosa but not many reflect the life-threatening disease it can become.

What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa, more commonly known as anorexia, is an eating disorder that can be self diagnosed by excessive weight-loss caused by self-starvation. Aside from physical effects, which we will go into more detail, anorexia is also considered a mental illness. Most turn to this obsession as a sense of control in a reality where they feel they have none.

What Are The Statistics?

This eating disorder can affect males or females. However, 90-95% of those diagnosed are girls and women. It’s estimated that 5-20% of people affected by this eating disorder will die, with severity in relation to length of time.

Am I Suffering From Anorexia Nervosa?

Answer these 10 questions:

  • Have you recently noticed a drastic decrease in weight?
  • Do you struggle with maintaining a healthy self-esteem?
  • Are you overly concerned about gaining weight?
  • Do you find yourself refusing or making excuses not to eat?
  • Are you self-conscious about your body image?
  • Do you exercise excessively?
  • Do you obsess over dieting?
  • Have you been distancing yourself from friends and family?
  • Are you often depressed?
  • Have you noticed dry or yellow tinted skin?

If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, you may be suffering from anorexia nervosa. The good news is that it’s treatable. With the right amount of support and treatment, you can bring balance back to your life by taking the steps to really take control of your health and self-confidence. However, if left untreated, anorexia can have some devastating effects.

When the body is starved of proper nourishment, the system slows down to conserve energy.

Dangers Of Anorexia

  • Heart rates drop to an abnormally slow rate
  • Blood pressure drops
  • Blood count becomes abnormal
  • Risk of heart failure increases
  • Risk of osteoporosis and reduction in bone density
  • Muscles deteriorate
  • Body suffers from dehydration, leading to kidney failure

Physical Symptoms

  • Extreme thinness
  • Irregular periods in women
  • Lower testosterone in men
  • Feeling weak, fatigued, or dizzy, or experiencing fainting spells
  • Dry skin that may also take on yellowish tint
  • Bluish color on the tips of the fingers
  • Dry hair and hair loss
  • Downy hair that grows over the skin in order to keep warm

Anorexia affects all of the organs in the body. If left untreated, the body becomes severely malnourished. This can result in damage that is not treatable, even if the disease is taken under control.

Emotional Symptoms

  • Lying about whether or not you have eaten
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Emotionally flat-lined
  • Obsessing over weight gain
  • Feeling insecure about the way you look
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Feeling depressed
  • Thoughts of suicide

When To Seek Medical Attention

If the above resonates with anything you’re experiencing, it’s time to see a doctor.

Medical attention doesn’t have to be scary. Perceive it as a moment of clarity that’s bringing you closer to your desired result of being a healthy, happy human being.

If you feel unable to discuss your situation with loved ones, find a friend you can confide in. It’s important to keep company who will help to lift your spirits during the process. If you’re concerned about someone you think is suffering from this illness, here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • Skipping meals
  • Frequent references or complaints about weight gain
  • Intense exercise regimens
  • Refusal to eat in public
  • Covering up in layers of clothing
  • Extreme thinness

Always approach someone you feel is suffering with anorexia, or any illness, with kindness and love. Most people who suffer from this illness are inclined to be in denial about what’s happening to them and will withdraw from anyone they feel is preaching or pointing a finger.

Often, loved ones feel they are coming from a good place, but they will be pushed away if their approach is not subtle and empathetic. If you really want to help, do your research, understand the illness and seek to understand the mental state of the sufferer.

What Causes Anorexia?

There is no specific cause attributed to this illness, but there are recorded factors that come into play. Some people are more genetically susceptible to anorexia, such as those with perfectionist and/or obsessive-compulsive tendencies. These personality traits keep them striving for more, as they believe it’s never enough and every day is focused on reaching an unobtainable goal of perfection.

As previously mentioned, society also plays a role. Successful, attractive and women who are perceived with “worth” are often portrayed as thin, as well as fit and beautiful. For young women, anorexia starts as they move through puberty, struggling to understand themselves and their bodies in relation to the world around them.

Treatment

If you’re able to identify the issue in the early stages and are ready for treatment, it’s best to seek out a program that encompasses all of the tools you need to get better. These include intensive therapy, nutrition education and medical care.

However, if you feel your that your life is in danger, hospitalization is imperative to treat issues of the heart, extreme dehydration and imbalances. Medical professionals can monitor vital signs, levels and physical conditions along with treatment to help you get better. In extreme cases, some patients may need to be fed through a nasogastric tube that provides nutrients to the body.

Obstacles

Because this illness is mostly psychological, there are no medications used for treatment. Instead, a proper diet and therapy necessary to bring yourself back to a healthy state. By ruling out a quick and easy fix, the biggest obstacles lie in our ability to identify unhealthy behaviors.

The Road To Recovery

It’s important to understand that an illness such as this cannot be treated overnight.

Every step in the direction towards health is a small victory that eventually brings you to where you need to be. Be gentle with yourself.

Work with a dietitian, nutritionist or program that will help you set goals. Make a list of steps to take that will bring your body and mental state back to a healthy place. Put together a meal plan to bring yourself to an ideal and healthy weight while also work to develop a different relationship to food.

While you’re working on your physical health, it’s beneficial to pair it with cognitive therapy for continued progress and success. There is a mental process associated with wellness and it’s advantageous to talk, share, and receive support through your recovery. Find activities that make you happy and leave you feeling fulfilled.

Anorexia is not a lifestyle choice—it’s an illness that slowly breaks down your mental and physical capacities. Examine your behaviors and accept them for what they are without making excuses. It’s OK to feel! Give yourself time to process the emotions that are less than attractive to look at. It’s out of the darkness that light appears and help is always available. A healthy, happy life is available for you and it begins with one step.

Last Updated: Oct 5, 2016