Anorexia is a challenging and debilitating eating disorder that is fueled by an often incorrect self-perception, a negative body image, and a desire to achieve perfection. Anorexia often causes people to lose more weight than they should in order to stay healthy. Anorexia can impact long-term health and can even lead to early heart failure and death.
Causes of Anorexia Nervosa
While there is no specific cause of anorexia nervosa, it is important to remember that a person who suffers from it might not recognize the reality of their body. For example, if they are underweight, they still could think they need to lose weight and begin excessively dieting or exercising.
Social pressures that prefer thin figures are possible factors, along with genes, hormones, underlying conditions, or a desire to create a sense of control.
You may be at risk of anorexia if you have recently experienced any of the following symptoms:
- You have experienced increased worry about weight gain, body image, shape, size, etc.
- You tend to have strong goals of perfection, with too much energy or concentration spent on rules, formulas, or plans
- You have ever experienced low self-esteem or a negative opinion of your body or appearance
- You maintain very specific ideas about what an ideal body weight is or what socially acceptable beauty is
- You were once diagnosed with or suspect that you might have an anxiety disorders or eating problems, even if these eating issues may have begun in early childhood.
Normally, anorexia symptoms begin during the teenage years when people are more aware of their body and how it is changing. Most studies have shown anorexia in women with high academic pursuits and a personality or family that is focused on achieving significant goals. Although less documented, anorexia can also be a problem with males, females of different age groups, and transgender individuals who have the same risk factors.1
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
There are four main symptoms of anorexia nervosa. In order for a person to be diagnosed with this eating disorder, that person must have:
- A fear of becoming fat or of unrealistic weight gain, even if that person is clearly under normal bodyweight
- An unhealthy view of weight loss and a failure to recognize how serious the problem is, combined with an equally unhealthy idea of a healthy body image
- An inability or a refusal to maintain a normal body weight, usually staying below any healthy weight by at least 15 percent or more
- No menses (periods) for three or more cycles (for women)
People who have anorexia tend to restrict their eating, even when they clearly need nutrients to survive.
Some behaviors associated with anorexia include:
- Constantly exercising, even when it is unhealthy, causes injuries, or is well beyond medical advice
- Avoidance of eating in front of others
- Reorganizing food on a plate by slicing it into small pieces, or moving it around instead of eating
- Triggering a loss of appetite with the use of diet pills or substances
- Using the bathroom immediately following a meal, with or without the help of pills, diuretics, enemas or laxatives
- Hiding food while pretending to have eaten
- Exhibiting extreme anxiety when asked to eat
Physical health symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- Yellow skin with blotchiness, dryness, or fine (downy) hairs on face, arms, and legs
- Dry mouth or dehydration
- Poor judgment, confusion, or slow thinking
- Problems remembering information
- Difficulty healing from injuries
- Hair loss
- Extra sensitivity to the cold weather and wearing numerous layers of clothing to try to keep warm
- Osteoporosis, osteopenia, or loss of bone strength
- Feelings of depression or unhappiness
- A loss or wasting away of muscle or body fat
Common Medical Tests for People with Anorexia
If you have ever suffered from anorexia, it is important to get a full medical checkup regularly. Anorexia may not cause obvious health problems right away, but the strain of not eating will take a toll.
Physicians or health professionals might consider a number of tests for patients they suspect have had or do have anorexia, including:
- Bone density testing
- Blood protein globulin or albumin tests
- Thyroid function tests
- Electrolyte testing
- Liver function tests
- Bone density test
- Kidney function tests
- Cell count for blood or hemoglobin
- Electrocardiograms to measure heart health
- Urine sampling and/or kidney function tests
Facts About Anorexia Nervosa
Research indicates that 0.6 percent of the United States adult population has reported anorexia nervosa as an illness. Only 33.8 percent who have it are receiving treatment, which means that most people suffering from the disorder are not getting help. Ages of onset will vary, but according to studies, most people begin anorexic symptoms in adolescence.2
What makes anorexia nervosa so frustrating is that people who have it are often unaware that it is dangerous, or they may feel that the weight loss is worth the life-threatening dangers of not eating. They may deny any problems associated with their eating habits, behavior, or weight loss. Unfortunately, too many people wait until a situation gets out of control before they try to enter some form of treatment facility.
There are many goals related to successful recovery from anorexia, like easing anxiety, restoring the normal body weight in a safe way and helping the patient return to healthy eating habits.
Patients who are in life-threatening condition may need hospital treatment until they are stabilized. In many instances, a short hospital stay can save the patient’s life. Not all patients who have anorexia are released from the hospital quickly, and if someone is below 70 percent of their ideal weight, a longer stay might be necessary.
Longer hospital stays are a must for those who continue to lose weight, or if they experience heart problems, low potassium levels or confusion. Some patients are required to stay in a hospital if they have severe depression or thoughts of suicide. Once the patient is physically stable and well enough to feel functional, eating disorder treatment can begin. Dedicated eating disorder programs focus on treating the anxieties and thoughts behind the eating disorder.
A comprehensive treatment program will help the patient change how they look at eating. Treatment should feel safe and comfortable, and include talk therapy, group support, and family counseling.
Therapy that includes family counseling empowers and educates family members to create a healthier household and support system while they encourage a healthier eating schedule. Group therapies that involve families or supporters can make a big difference for all people with eating disorders.
Sometimes, prescription medication is considered as part of a complete treatment plan. Medications are usually only prescribed if the patient has damaged her body by not eating, or to treat any co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.
Get Help for Anorexia and Other Issues Today
We specialize in addressing the underlying cause of anorexia with a comprehensive treatment program, utilizing staff members who have extensive knowledge and expertise in the area. We also have the unique ability to treat eating disorders that are complicated with drug abuse or addiction issues.
Now is the time to get help and start recovering, so if you or someone you know has been suffering from anorexia, contact us today at 615-490-9376. We look forward to beginning a very important healing process with you.
1 The U.S. National Library of Medicine. Anorexia. 2018.
2 National Institute on Mental Health. Statistics. 2018.