Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by persistent energy intake restriction, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self perceived weight or shape. For some people, restricting their food and weight can be a way of controlling areas of life that feel out of their control and their body image can come to define their entire sense of self worth. It can also be a way of expressing emotions that may feel too complex or frightening such as pain, stress or anxiety.
The reasons behind the development of AN will differ from person to person. Known causes include genetic predisposition and a combination of environmental, social and cultural factors. Restrictive dieting and excessive exercise can be contributing factors to the onset of AN. Women and girls with AN may use dieting behavior in a bid to achieve a culturally constructed thin ideal whereas men may over exercise and control their diet to achieve a muscular body.
It is commonly accepted that AN is more frequently diagnosed in females across the ages. However, recent population studies suggest that in adolescents, there are an equal number of males and females suffering from this illness.
– Inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is clearly too low.
– Intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain.
– Self-esteem overly related to body image.
– Inability to appreciate the severity of the situation.
– Binge-Eating/Purging Type involves binge eating and/or purging behaviors during the last three months.
– Restricting Type does not involve binge eating or purging.
– Eating disorders experts have found that prompt intensive treatment significantly improves the chances of recovery. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa.
– Dramatic weight loss.
– Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting.
– Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g. no carbohydrates, etc.).
– Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss.
– Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat.”
– Denial of hunger.
– Development of food rituals (e.g. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate).
– Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food.
– Excessive, rigid exercise regimen–despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, the need to “burn off” calories taken in.
– Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
– In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
People with anorexia often don’t seek help, perhaps because they’re afraid or don’t recognize they have a problem. Many have hidden their condition for a long time – sometimes years.
The most important first step is for someone with anorexia to realise they need help and want to get better.
If you think someone you know has anorexia, try talking to them about your worries and encourage them to seek help.
This can be a very difficult conversation because they may be defensive and refuse to accept they have a problem. However, it’s important not to criticize or pressure them as this can make things worse.
You may want to seek advice from an eating disorder support group such as Beat about the best way to raise the subject.
If you think you may have anorexia, try to seek help as soon as possible. You could start by talking to a person you trust, such as a member of your family or a friend, and perhaps ask them to go with you to see your GP.
Is recovery from Anorexia Nervosa possible?
Yes. It is possible to recover from AN, even if you have been living with the illness for many years. The path to recovery can be long and challenging, however with the right team supporting you and a high level of commitment, recovery is achievable. Treatment for ANis available; seek help from a professional with specialized knowledge in eating disorders.
But, if anorexia remains unsuccessfully treated for a long time, a number of other serious problems can develop. These can include fragile bones (osteoporosis), infertility, an irregular heartbeat, and other heart problems.
Despite being an uncommon condition, anorexia is one of the leading causes of mental health-related deaths. This can be because of the effects of malnutrition or as a result of suicide.